Around 9.30 am yesterday, Lalit Sheth — the 56-year-old chairman of Raj Travels —wrapped up a meeting at Andheri and headed towards his office near Girgaum Chowpatty. At about 1.10 pm, while traversing the sea link, Sheth requested his driver Ajit Jha to stop the car as he wanted to make a phone call and then instructed the latter to leave him there and take the vehicle to the office. That was the last time anyone saw Sheth alive. His body was later fished out of the waters near Worli Koliwada.
Interestingly, a notice from the official receiver of Bombay high court was pasted outside the travel agency, suggesting a legal dispute has been raging. Police are investigating whether this was one of the factors that prompted Sheth to take his own life.
Around 1.30 pm, Ajit tried to call his boss on his mobile, but realised his phone was switched off. Jha then contacted Sheth’s son Akash (31), who also failed to get in touch with his father. Both Ajit and Akash then headed to Worli police station and reported Sheth missing at 3 pm.
Police first explored Sheth’s car, where they found a suicide note. It read, “Ending my life, as failed to fulfil my commitments for which I am solely and alone responsible.” It was then that the sleuths realised Sheth had probably taken his own life.
Deputy police commissioner Dhananjay Kulkarni said, “Lalit Sheth killed himself by jumping off the sea link and his body was found at Worli village. The body has been sent to Sion hospital for post-mortem. Also a suicide note has been found from his car.”
Additional CP (Central Region) Pravin Salunkhe said, “A case of accidental death has been registered. We are investigating whether Sheth’s financial irregularities have led to his death.”
Body of evidence
Cops traced the deceased’s mobile phone to near Worli. The body, when recovered, only had a shirt and tie on it. The rest of the garments had ostensibly been washed off. Incidentally, no CCTV footage from the sea link is available, as the cameras had been shut down because of strong winds.
Following the incident, cops visited Sheth’s house at Gandhi building to make inquiries, and they questioned his wife Rekha. But when she came to know about her husband’s death, Rekha went into shock and fell unconscious. So policemen failed to elicit any information out of her.
A life less ordinary
Speaking to MiD DAY, one of Lalit Sheth’s closest friends, who did not wish to be named, said, “After coming from Kolkata, along with his brothers Ashok and Raju, Lalit started Raj Travels in 1976. Earlier his office was located at Khajurwala Chambers at Masjid Bander, and later he had shifted to Panchratna and developed his business on a much larger scale.
After Panchratna, he also opened an office at Opera House. In the beginning his Kashmiri tours were very popular because he would rent a few houseboats in Srinagar and hire good chefs from Mumbai who cooked delicious Gujarati food and met the tourists’ demands. In 1979, he launched his first international tour - Mumbai-Singapore-Bangkok-Mumbai - and later became celebrated in the field. ‘All Inclusive’ was his success mantra. In the field of travels he developed a whole lot of fresh ideas and today he has 79 offices and about 1,000 agents across India.
He married a Kashmiri girl and they have a son and a daughter.
But, when he floated Raj Airlines, his company started making losses. That’s why his financial status deteriorated. After that he recovered from those misfortunes. Again, five years ago when he launched Raj tourist bus service, he incurred damages. He had bought about 75 buses, each at a cost of Rs 90 lakh, and he had also started many franchises in the country.
He tried to offer Indians the same luxury that people in Western countries are used to while travelling. But things didn’t work in his favour, and he kept losing money. This could be a reason behind his suicide.”
According to sources at LTMG hospital, where the autopsy was carried out, the forensic team photographed the entire procedure, which is a practice they follow while handling high-profile cases.
Preliminary examinations revealed that the deceased had sustained a few minor injuries around the knees and had a small swelling on the left side of the head. This according to forensic experts could be due to fall from a height.
The autopsy hinted that death was due to drowning, but as a precaution the surgeons have preserved the viscera for chemical analysis to rule out any possibility of poisoning and to conduct histopathology tests to discount any pre-existing ailment.
“We have given the provisional cause of death stating it to be a case of drowning. However, the final report would be submitted once we receive the laboratory findings,” said Dr Rajesh Dhere, professor and head of forensics department. Meanwhile, the Dadar police have registered a case under section 174 of the Cr Procedure Code.
—Vinod Kumar Menon