Uttarakhand: Receptionist's Body Recovered; BJP Expels Father, Brother of Main Accused

According to the police, Ankita Bhandari was killed by Pulkit Arya – son of BJP leader Vinod Arya – and two of his associates because she refused to "provide special services" to guests.

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New Delhi: The body of the 19-year-old who was allegedly killed by the son of an Uttarkhand BJP leader and two others was recovered from a canal on Saturday.

According to the police, Ankita Bhandari was killed by Pulkit Arya – son of former state minister Vinod Arya – and two of his associates because the receptionist refused to have sex with guests at the Vanantara resort, owned by Arya.

Arya was arrested on Friday with resort manager Saurabh Bhaskar and assistant manager Ankit Gupta and sent to 14 days judicial custody. According to the police, they confessed to pushing Bhandari into the canal after an “altercation”.

The ruling BJP, stung by vehement protests and opposition accusations, swung into action to expel Vinod Arya and the district administration began demolishing parts of the resort.

Outrage over the killing of the 19-year-old, who worked as a receptionist in the Vanantara resort in Pauri district’s Yamkeshwar block, escalated as details emerged of her trauma in the days preceding her death.

Violent protests erupted in areas surrounding the resort with locals breaking glass panes and some trying to torch a pickle factory on its premises. However, the fire did not spread much as the weather was cloudy.

Yamkeshwar MLA Renu Bisht’s car was also attacked near the Shakti canal close to Rishikesh from where the young woman’s body was recovered, six days after her parents reported her missing. However, the crowds, seething with anger, succeeded only in breaking the rear windscreen of her car and Bisht was escorted to safety by police personnel.

Bhandari had been under pressure from Pulkit Arya to provide “special services” to guests the director general of police Ashok Kumar said. This had been gleaned from her chat with a friend, he said.

“In the messages, she made it clear that they (the accused) want her to provide ‘special services’… that friend and the chat is major evidence for us. Also, we found the body from the same canal (Shakti canal near the Chilla powerhouse) in which the accused confessed to having pushed her,” the DGP said, according to the Indian Express.

Earlier in the day, Bhandari’s friend alleged that she was killed because she refused to have sex with guests as demanded by the owner of the resort.

BJP expels two leaders

As the ripples of anger spread, chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami promised that no one would be spared and that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Deputy Inspector General P. Renuka Devi had been constituted to probe all aspects.

“It is a tragic incident. Such a heinous crime has been committed against our daughter. Action is being taken against those involved in it. The father and brother of the main accused Pulkit Arya have been expelled from the BJP,” Dhami told reporters.

Vinod Arya had formerly served as chairperson of the Uttarakhand Mati Board with a state minister’s rank. His other son Ankit, who was also in the BJP, has now been removed as vice president of Uttarakhand OBC Commission.

“Demolition of the resort owned by the main accused is underway. Some of its rooms have also been sealed so that evidence is not destroyed. We have also issued an order to identify all resorts built illegally on government or forest land and demolish them,” he added.

The Indian Express reported that the parts of the resort that were deemed “illegal” and were demolished included the room where Bhandari was staying, the reception area, and the front portion of the resort.

Dhami also spoke to Ankita Bhandari’s father on the phone and assured him of an impartial and speedy probe into his daughter’s murder.

Sharing the information in a tweet, Dhami said sternest action will be taken against the guilty which will prove to be a deterrent for criminals who commit such crimes. The administration had started demolishing the structure on Friday night on grounds of illegalities.

Congress, locals protest

The Congress staged protests in district headquarters across the state on Saturday to voice its anger over the vulnerability of women in the state.

Pradesh Congress Committee president Karan Mahra said the young woman had gone missing on September 18 and the FIR was lodged four days later. “It shows the state government is not serious in its actions. Women are not safe in Uttarakhand,” Mahra said.

“The action being taken by the state government is just an eyewash. The resort has been demolished only partially. It may also be an attempt to destroy evidence,” added Congress leader Garima Dhasauni.

Countering the allegations of delay in action against the culprits, DGP Kumar said the matter was transferred to regular police from revenue police on Thursday and the accused were sent behind bars within 24 hours.

The autopsy is being done at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Rishikesh, police said.

According to Pauri additional SP Shekhar Chandra Suyal, Ankita was missing from September 19 (Monday) but her parents reported the matter to the revenue police on the following day.

Due to slow progress in the investigation, the matter was handed over to the regular police on September 22 and the arrests were made on September 23.

The three men accused of the crime initially tried to mislead the police but “confessed” when interrogated closer, Suyal said yesterday.

On Friday, crowds attacked the police car when the accused were being taken to a court in Kotdwar. They smashed the windowpanes of the car and roughed up the three men. Some women who were part of the mob demanded that the accused must be “hanged.”

(With PTI inputs)