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May 4, 1999


Witnesses to model's murder are
not co-operating, say police

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Onkar Singh in Delhi

Everything is as it used to be at Jessica Lal's Safdarjung Enclave residence in South Delhi. Only, there's no Jessica.

The model was shot dead at point blank range, allegedly by Manu Sharma alias Siddharth Vasisth, son of former Union minister of state Venod Sharma, in the small hours of April 30 at socialite Bina Ramani's Qutab Colonnade restaurant when she refused him a drink.

"She had gone there as a friend and was helping [Bina Ramani's daughter] Malani when three young men started hassling Jessica for a drink long after the bar had closed. Since we were not there, we don't know what really transpired. The incident took place around 1.30 in the morning, but we got to know of it only around 2.30 when someone reached us on our MTNL number. We had been getting calls on our cell phones, but thought someone was just trying to say hello," said a friend of Jessica.

That delay proved fatal. "By the time we rushed her to Aashlok Hospital near her home, she was already having problems. The owners, who were known to us, took her into emergency and had a CAT-scan done. There was no hope. We were told to rush her to Apollo Hospital where a neurosurgeon was waiting. But she died before we could get there," said the friend.

Five days after the incident, the Delhi police are still groping in the dark. They have not been able to arrest Vasisth or his two friends.

"We have already seized the Tata Safari in which Siddharth came to the party with his friends. The vehicle was abandoned in NOIDA. We have also spoken to his father Venod Sharma. He has assured us all co-operation and promised to tell us in case his son gets in touch with him. We have also identified his friends who were there at the party and we are conducting raids at various places in Delhi, Chandigarh and Karnal to find them. We hope to arrest them soon," Joint Commissioner of Police (southern range) Amod Kanth, who is supervising the investigation, told Rediff On The NeT.

The murder has shaken up the Delhi police. For one, they were unaware that Bina Ramani was running a bar at her restaurant. "Only 77 restaurants have been granted licences to run bars," a police officer said. "But now we realise that there is a bar in almost every farmhouse in Delhi serving liquor illegally."

Though the Mehrauli police reached the place within minutes of being informed of the murder, they could do little detective work as the restaurant had been washed and locked. There was no blood even at the spot where Jessica was shot.

The police, however, have not yet registered a case against Ramani either for destruction of evidence or for running an illegal bar. "We are trying to see if she can be used as a prosecution witness," Police Commissioner V N Singh said.

Vasisth carried a .22 bore revolver registered in his father's name. Venod Sharma, a Congress politician of Chandigarh, owns the Piccadilly hotels. Investigations have revealed that he bought the revolver from the customs department for just Rs 9000 when he was a member of Parliament.

"Siddharth was a spoilt child and had become a source of nuisance," said a source close to the family. Sometime back he was slapped by another model when he tried to misbehave with her at a party in a five-star hotel.

"We are still investigating the incident. It is too early to say if refusal of a drink was the cause for the incident. There has to be something more to it. Unfortunately those who were present are not coming forward with information. Even those who were co-operating earlier have started backing out," a senior police officer said.

Y S Dadwal, joint commissioner of police, New Delhi range, was also at the restaurant that day. But he left much before the incident took place. "I have told Amod Kanth of my presence," Dadwal said. Significantly, Dadwal was once inspector general of police, Chandigarh. It is possible that he may have helped the police arrive at the identity of the killers.

"Jessica and her sister Sabrina normally went together to parties, but Sabrina had to drop out at the last minute that day because she had to come with me," said another friend of Jessica.

Another family friend, Nalini, said, "I have just one request to make: please refrain from printing rumours about Jessica. It will not be fair to her. We are not trying to hurt anyone and in turn we do not expect anyone to hurt us. Vested interests are maligning her and only those involved will benefit."

Meanwhile, Malani Ramani, whose casual remark to Vasisth that "you got to pay Rs1000 for a sip" enraged the youth, has got herself admitted to a nursing home in Delhi, allegedly to avoid interrogation.

As for her mother's plight, the less said the better, snigger the police. "Her political contacts refuse to take her calls. Her friends have deserted her, at least for the time being. The so-called sister of Romesh Sharma, whose second wedding took place at his Jai Mata farmhouse, is in deep trouble. The socialite who could swing a party in a matter of minutes and even invite Hollywood celebrities over is now the most shunned woman in Delhi's cocktail circuit," grinned a police officer.

Ramani has claimed to have been hosting a private party, but police say they have gathered evidence that anyone who bought coupons was allowed in. Again, while police have learnt that up to 400 persons were present in the restaurant at the time of the incident, Ramani has allegedly given them a list of only 70 guests.

Model's murderer continues to elude dragnet

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