A woman slum-dweller was detained and interrogated on Wednesday following the recovery of four burnt and decomposed bodies, identified to be of children of migrant labourers from an abandoned rice mill of a prominent politician in this Punjab town.
Muktsar district police chief G Nageshwar Rao said the woman was being questioned as the parents of one of the children who had gone missing November 12 last year had suspected her to be behind the crime.
The bodies of the children were taken to the civil hospital in Muktsar (Punjab) for post mortem. The woman lives in the same locality of migrant labourers from where the children had been missing.
Police sources said nearly 50 people, including children, were reported missing in Muktsar, 200 km from the state capital Chandigarh, in the last one year.
A team of three forensic experts from Chandigarh started probing the macabre discovery. They indicated to reporters at the site that one of the girls, aged 13 years, might have been raped before being, like other victims, strangulated by the killer. Their bodies were later burnt.
The half burnt, highly decomposed bodies were recovered late Tuesday from a rice mill belonging to senior Congress leader and former MP Jagmeet Singh Brar.
The bodies were identified by labourers living nearby, officials at the site said.
Police stumbled on the grisly discovery when a team stationed itself in another building in the mill complex in preparation for the Maghi religious festival in the area. They detected a foul smell from one of the warehouses and informed senior police officials.
Brar, a member of the Congress' national Congress Working Committee (CWC), said he was ready to face any probe, including by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), into the unfortunate killing of the children.
He said the rice mill, which he had been leasing out to contractors earlier, was lying unused for over five years.
While Brar is known as a baiter of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, he ruled out political rivalry behind the incident.
"I don't think any political rival could stoop to such low level to get back at me. A thorough probe must be done in this matter to know the truth. I am ready to cooperate with any probe agency," Brar said.
Shiromani Akali Dal general secretary Sukhbir Singh Badal has demanded a CBI probe into the matter.
The sensational crime comes close on the heels of the discovery of the remains of at least 20 children in Nithari village of Noida in Uttar Pradesh. The main accused in those killings, Moninder Singh Pandher, belongs to Punjab.
The Muktsar killings could be a talking point in the campaign to the assembly elections in the state to be held February 13.