Days before her disappearance, the victim, Ankita Bhandari, had sent a chilling note to her close friend on WhatsApp, saying: “They are forcing me to provide extra service to hotel guests, feeling insecure… the owner once tried to kiss me forcefully.” She had also shared her agony with a few staffers.
Police, on Friday, said that the teen had joined the resort for a salary of Rs 10,000 per month on August 28 this year and the main accused, Pulkit Arya, 35, who also happens to be the son of a senior BJP leader and ex-minister of state Vinod Arya, had allegedly been nudging her to “develop sexual relations with his guests to earn extra” despite her constant refusals.
Angry locals gathered at the resort on Friday
Her father, Virendra Bhandari, a resident of Khanda Srikot, claimed that when her daughter went missing on the night of September 18, he was informed the next day, following which “he ran from pillar to post to get a case registered with revenue police” and only managed after intervention of the state assembly speaker Ritu Khanduri.
Apart from Pulkit, resort manager Saurabh Bhaskar, 35, and staffer Ankit Gupta, 19, have been arrested and IPC sections 302 (murder), 120-b (criminal conspiracy) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) were later added against them. All three are from Jwalapur in Haridwar district.
Divulging the case details, SSP, Pauri Garhwal, Yashwant Singh, said, “During questioning on Thursday night, the three accused confessed to their crime. Saurabh Bhaskar told police that on the evening of September 18, Pulkit, the owner of Vanantara resort, and the girl were involved in an argument in her room, in front of him and Ankit Gupta.”
The SSP added: “At around 8pm, the three accused then left the resort with her on two bikes — the girl seated with Pulkit while Bhaskar and Gupta were on another bike. They went towards AIIMS Rishikesh and had some snacks. From there, they went to Chilla Barrage at around 8.30, where the three consumed liquor. There, they had another argument with the girl. In a fit of rage, Pulkit pushed her from a cliff, a few kms from the resort, into the river, where she drowned within a few minutes. Search is now on to recover the body.”
Shekhar Suyal, ASP (Kotdwar), leading a 14-member probe team, said, “The next morning, as per their plan, the three told others in the resort that the receptionist had gone missing from her room. One of the staffers who had received a call from her on the evening of her disappearance, informed the police that he saw her very tense and was crying profusely.”
Angry locals including women stopping police from taking the accused to court in Rishikesh.
The girl’s father, still in a state of complete shock, said, “I went to the resort to check the CCTV footage, but the camera was broken. The local revenue police were taking the side of the accused. I even saw the accused with them. Left with no option, I found the assembly speaker’s number and informed her everything over the phone. She belongs to a nearby village. She patiently listened and directed the district magistrate to immediately register a case following which the local patwari (revenue police inspector) lodged a case of abduction under IPC section 365 on September 21 before it was transferred to the regular police the next morning.”
A senior police officer of Pauri Garhwal, privy to the case, requesting anonymity, told TOI, “Patwari inspector Vivek Kumar wasted crucial time in the case. There was a headway only after three days of the incident. We fear much of the evidence has already been lost. The girl’s body is yet to be recovered. An autopsy is crucial to determine the details of the murder. The district administration should order a larger probe.”
“To our shock, it was found that the case registered by the Patwari on the girl missing, was on the complaint of the accused resort owner and not the girl’s father”, he said.
He also said, “It was also found that the girl had two mobile phones which had their last location traced at AIIMS Rishikesh and Raiwala, respectively, at around 8pm. After about half an hour, both the phones were switched off. They were possibly with her when she was pushed off the cliff.” DM Pauri Garhwal Vijay Kumar Jogdande and patwari Vivek Kumar were unavailable for any comment.
Earlier in the day, after the police arrested the three accused, angry locals including women in large numbers gathered at the resort at vandalised it. They also thrashed the three accused after stopping the police vehicle which was taking them to a local court.