As the alleged murder case of a 19-year-old receptionist from Uttarakhand’s Ganga Bhogpur area garners national limelight, twists and turns on how the three arrested accused tried to mislead the police have come to the surface.
The woman, who went missing on 18 September from the Vanantra resort in Rishikesh, was allegedly murdered by the owner of the resort and two others, the police said on Friday, 23 September.
Her body was found five days after the incident and after more than 24 hours of searching the canal.
Meanwhile, the police have arrested the owner of the resort, Pulkit Arya, the manager, Saurabh Bhaskar, and assistant manager Ankit Gupta. Arya is the son of now expelled Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former minister Vinod Arya.
During police interrogation, the accused confessed their crime and also informed the police about how they carried it out.
So, what is the case? How did the accused try to cover up their crime? And how did they fail?
CCTV Gives First Lead
The young woman, working as a receptionist at Vanantra Resort, had mysteriously disappeared from the resort on 18 September. After this, the accused lodged a missing report at Laxmanjhula police station. The police continued to investigate the girl's disappearance for three days, but nothing was found.
When relatives and villagers put pressure on the administration, the matter was handed over from the revenue police to the regular police, which led to the case being resolved within 24 hours.
After the transfer of the case, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSO) Pauri Yashwant Singh Chauhan formed a team of ASP and Circle Officer Circle Srinagar, Police Station Laxmanjhula and Police Station Devprayag to begin investigating the matter.
The police checked electronic surveillance and CCTV footage, which revealed that the girl had gone to Rishikesh along with resort owner Pulkit Arya, manager Saurabh Bhaskar, and Ankit alias (Pulkit) Gupta on the night of 18 September, between 8 and 9 pm.
Later in the night, the accused returned to the resort but without the woman.
Questioning of Resort Staff
After this the police started questioning the resort personnel, who told the police that on the night of 18 September, though the girl had gone out of the resort with accused, she was not with them when they came back between 10.30 pm and 11.30 pm.
Resort personnel also told that on the evening of 18 September, the 19-year-old was very upset. Crying on the phone, she had asked another employee to bring her bag upstairs.
After interrogating the resort personnel, the police brought the three accused Ankit, Pulkit and Saurabh to the police station for questioning, after which the accused confessed to the crime and informed the police about the whole incident.
How and Why Was the Woman Murdered?
During interrogation, the accused told the police that there was a verbal argument between Pulkit Arya and the woman. Following which, Pulkit told the other two accused that “the girl is upset, let us take her to Rishikesh.”
All three left on different vehicles and reached somewhere near AIIMS via Rishikesh barrage. On return, Pulkit brought the woman on a two-wheeler, and overtook the other two accused.
They reached Cheela road, next to the canal. The police said that Pulkit and other accused had momos and alcohol along the canal in a dark spot. The argument between the accused and the victim flared up again.
Pulkit had blamed the woman for revealing the talks between the two to her colleagues. She then accused him of asking her to develop relations with the visitors of the resort.
The young woman said that she will tell everyone about what is happening in the resort. She then threw the key accused’s phone in the canal. The three men, in an inebriated condition, then thrashed the woman and pushed her in the canal, the police said.
After falling in the water, the woman shouted a couple times before she drowned.
Attempts to Cover Up
The accused panicked after the incident and hatched a conspiracy. Since they were seen by the resort employees – Abhinav and Kush – they decided to call the chef, Manveer, and asked him to prepare food for four people.
Later, when the chef inquired about the woman, the accused said that she was not with them.
After this, the three sneaked into the resort. Ankit then took the food from the chef and kept it in the woman’s room.
The next morning, Pulkit Arya and Ankit Gupta left for Haridwar. There, Pulkit bought a new mobile and a dummy sim of the same number.
Continuing with the cover-up, Pulkit called another resort employee to go to the girl's room and bring her phone.
The employee did the same and told them that neither the receptionist nor her phone was there. It was the accused themselves who then lodged the First Information Report (FIR) for the missing person and gave similar statements.
Revenue police (Patwari system), which operates in over 50 percent of the state, took the men’s statement.
After not getting any information of their daughter for three days, the woman’s mother and other villagers reached the district headquarters in Pauri and appealed to the District Magistrate to search for their daughter.
They also demanded the matter to be handed over the matter to the regular Police.
District Magistrate Dr Vijay Kumar Jogdande handed over the case on Thursday, 22 September.
SSP Pauri formed a team and started from the resort itself.
On the basis of the CCTV footage, the police interrogated the owner, manager and personnel of the resort intensively, after which details of the hatched conspiracy opened up.
The District Magistrate has suspended a Revenue Inspector with immediate effect. Further, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has also assured strict action to the victim's family.
Pulkit Arya is the owner of Vanantra Resort and son of former state minister and now expelled BJP leader, Vinod Arya.
Vinod Arya has been removed as a member of the National Executive of BJP OBC Morcha. His second son, Ankit Arya, has been removed from the post of the vice-chairman in the State Backward Commission.
Body Found Near Razed Resort, SIT Probe Ordered
The police razed the resort on Saturday morning, 24 September.
Further, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under DIG P Renuka Devi has been formed to probe the matter, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami announced in a tweet.
Dhami added, "Directed all DMs to take action against all resorts that have been constructed illegally. Action was taken against the resort of accused. We have sealed the place as forensic and other tests will take place there. But action will continue."
He added, "We have constituted an SIT under DIG P Renuka Devi to ensure the strictest punishment for the accused, it will investigate the matter. No accused will be spared, whoever they may be."
(With inputs from Madhusudhan Joshi and Harsh Rawat.)
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