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‘Murder cases are extremely time sensitive’

‘The greater the delay, the more the likelihood of crucial evidence being destroyed.’

The cold-blooded murder by drowning of 19-year-old receptionist Ankita Bhandari in the Cheela canal near Rishikesh shocked Uttarakhand.

The alleged murderer is Ankita’s employer Pulkit Arya, whose father Vinod Arya was a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader till he was expelled after the murder.

Pulkit and his accomplices, all employees at his resort Vantara, may have conspired to destroy crucial evidence by getting bulldozers into the resort on the very night the murder had occurred in order to destroy crucial evidence. Or so, former Uttarakhand director general of police Aloke B Lal surmises in this conversation with Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.

Do you think Ankit Arya and his accomplices could be behind the move to demolish the resort?

It is possible. They could have done so to destroy evidence.

The bulldozers razed portions of the resort late at night and it was done without the following of proper procedure whereby a show cause notice is always issued prior to any demolition.

Maybe the administration resorted to this action as a ploy to show their effectiveness.

Why was the regular police not involved with the investigation right from the start?

It is a question of procedure.

A part of the Pauri Garhwal region comes under the jurisdiction of the revenue police while another part comes under the regular police.

The regular police cannot enter the jurisdiction of the revenue police unless the case is transferred to them.

Four crucial days were lost in this procedural delay during which crucial evidence may have been lost or destroyed?

Undoubtedly.

Murder cases are extremely time sensitive and the greater the delay, the more the likelihood of crucial evidence being destroyed.

Those culpable for such a decision must be punished because the destruction of evidence on the scene of a crime is an offence and the individual responsible for this becomes a conspirator in the crime.

The police claims videography was done of the resort and the evidence found has been preserved. But videography cannot record forensic evidence like strands of hair, sweat, saliva or semen drops which would have been crucial to establish relevant facts.

An SIT has been appointed under DIG (deputy inspector general of police) P Renuka Devi. I am in touch with some of those appointed.

I would not like to name them, and they have informed me that they are under no pressure and have been given full freedom to investigate the case.

The evidences have been sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory in Dehradun and the results are awaited.

The investigation has been carried and I understand the chargesheet is expected to be filed soon.

I also learn that the SIT has been able to collect a great of evidence at the site of the murder where the crime was committed.

Why did Ankit Arya meet Revenue Officer Vaibhav Pratap the day after the murder had been committed?

The local patwaris are not trained to investigate crimes.

They have not been trained in policing and have no understanding of either the Indian Penal Code or of the Constitution.

Their job is only to collect revenue and more often than not, they get the aggressor and the aggrieved party to come together and arrive at some compromise.

Obviously, the patwari makes money out of this transaction.

This system of revenue police is specific to the state of Uttarakhand.

In 1815, the commissioner Kumaon region issued an office memorandum stating that those areas that did not have roads would have patwaris acting as the local police officers to investigate all crimes.

This order has no legal sanctity whatsoever.

In 1855, the British issued the Scheduled District Act whereby this former memorandum was repealed.

Following this, in 1861, the Indian Police Act was enacted which is still in force in most states of India which defines what a police officer is and what is his jurisdiction.

Following this, we have had the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) that has been revised in 1973 and which clearly defines the job of a police officer and his jurisdiction.

The British were penny pinchers and did not want to spend money in these sparsely populated regions, but we are continuing with this stone age policing.

Again in 1947, following Independence, we should have done away with it completely.

What is stopping us?

It will require the setting up of 60 police stations and another 150 police outposts with a total manpower of 2400 staff.

This means a considerable amount of investment which the government does not want to make.

It will help provide jobs.

I don’t think this government is serious about providing jobs because there are thousands of vacancies in the government.

Every time recruitment has to take place in the state, a scam erupts and the process gets cancelled.

But when the high court ordered a stay on this process of revenue officials acting as policemen, the state government went into appeal in the Supreme Court?

It could be. I am not aware of it. But I would like to emphasise that the higher regions of Uttarakhand are very sensitive areas as they border both China and Nepal.

Nepal is already claiming the Kala Pani region as theirs whereas traditionally India has claimed this region as its own.

The expansion of policing in these areas is very crucial because the police will provide intelligence to prevent a repeat of a Galwan-like situation that occurred in our western borders in 2020.

I had written to the state government on the expansion of policing in these areas in 2001 and they replied in the positive, but not much has been done in all these years.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com

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