The Supreme Court asked the Uttarakhand government on Tuesday to file a status report in a sealed cover on the progress of the trial in the murder case of a 19-year-old woman, who worked as a receptionist in a resort owned by the son of a now-sacked BJP leader near Rishikesh.
A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and S V N Bhatti perused the two status reports filed by the state and posted the matter for further hearing in February 2024.
During the hearing, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing in the court on behalf of a journalist and the family members of deceased Ankita Bhandari, sought a CBI probe in the case.
Raising apprehensions on the investigation, Gonsalves alleged that no CCTV footage or forensic evidence was collected from the resort.
He submitted that a portion of the resort was demolished for unauthorised construction even before the forensic team went to collect evidence and alleged that efforts are being made to shield a political VIP.
After hearing Gonsalves, the bench put all these questions to Deputy Advocate General Jatinder Kumar Sethi, who appeared in the court on behalf of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed to probe the matter and the state government.
Sethi said the case has been thoroughly investigated by the nine-member SIT headed by a Tamil Nadu-based woman Indian Police Service (IPS) officer.
He submitted that a chargesheet has also been filed against main accused Pulkit Arya, son of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Vinod Arya, and two of his associates — Ankit alias Pulkit Gupta and Saurabh Bhaskar — for various offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including sexual harassment, murder and criminal conspiracy, and under the relevant provisions of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act.
“The trial court had framed charges on March 18 against them and as many as 27 prosecution witnesses have been examined, including the parents, brother, uncle and boyfriend of the deceased,” Sethi said.
He informed the court that the state had appointed the seniormost public prosecutor in the case but subsequently, on the request of the deceased’s parents, a prosecutor of their choice was nominated.
“The trial was proceeding and the prosecution evidence was to be completed shortly,” Sethi said, adding that the allegation of some VIP being involved in the case is false and politically motivated.
On March 13, the top court had asked the state government to file a status report on the investigation.
The deceased worked as a receptionist at the Vanantara resort near Rishikesh and was allegedly killed in September last year by its owner, Pulkit Arya, and two of his associates after she refused to yield to their pressure to offer “extra services” to a VIP visiting the resort.
Vinod Arya was expelled from the BJP last year amid mounting protests against the woman’s killing.
The plea filed by a journalist and the parents of the deceased has challenged the December 21, 2022 order of the Uttarakhand High Court, by which it had dismissed their petition for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The high court had said the SIT is already probing the case and it should not be doubted.
It had also said no VIP is being shielded, as alleged in the petition.
The petition before the high court had alleged that the deceased’s room was demolished the day her body was found and the post-mortem was done without the presence of any female doctor.
A portion of the resort was ordered to be demolished by the state government as public anger mounted.