Massive hunt for Cafe Coffee Day boss

Siddhartha goes missing near bridge over Netravathi.

Mangaluru: Karnataka woke up to a massive shock on Tuesday morning soon after news spread that V.G. Siddhartha, the founder of the iconic Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) chain — the Indian rival to Starbucks — and son-in-law of former chief minister S.M. Krishna, had gone missing near a bridge over the river Netravathi in Mangaluru, on Monday evening.

Siddhartha is yet to be traced with a herculean search operation now being carried out by personnel of the Indian Navy, Coast Guard, police and local fishermen in the swirling waters of the Netravathi. They are acting on the suspicion that Siddhartha may have taken his life by jumping into the river at a point, barely two kms from the sea, as a letter by him alluding to pressures from a PE investor to buy back shares have left many questions answered.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), home guards, fire department and the coastal police too are involved in this operation which is proving to be extremely difficult because of the rains and the fact that the river has a width of 1 km at the spot where Siddhartha was last seen before it enters the Arabian Sea.

Siddhartha’s driver, Basavaraja Patil who filed a missing person complaint at the Kankanady police station in Mangaluru said he had taken his employer to the CCD office at Vittal Mallya Road at 8 am and returned home at 11 am on July 29.

As Siddhartha wanted to go to his village in Chikkamagaluru, he asked the driver to bring his luggage and they left at 12.30 pm in a car, leaving his regular driver and car behind.

The dramatic sequence of events began when they were about to reach Sakaleshpur in Hassan. He asked the driver to continue driving and go to Mangaluru instead.

“When we reached the circle at the entrance of Mangaluru (Mahaveera Circle), he (Siddhartha) asked me to take a left turn as he wanted to go to his site (the CCD owner owns a property at Ullal),” the driver explained.

“When we reached Ullal bridge on the Kerala Highway, he asked me to stop the car before the bridge and asked me to wait at the other end as he wanted to walk. He stepped out and asked me to stay in the car. He crossed the road to reach the other lane going towards Mangaluru and started walking on the bridge. I waited but when he did not return by about 8 pm, I tried calling him. His number was switched off,” Basavaraja said.

Sources said, the CCD chief left all his personal possessions behind.

The driver then called Siddhartha's son Amarthya Hegde who said that he would call his dad. By then Coffee Day officer Pradeep Shetty had also reached the spot. Not

Mangaluru police commissioner Sandeep Patil said a dog squad was used during the search.

"It stopped in the middle of the bridge. We are contacting all those to whom he spoke to before he went missing," he said.

Sources said that the last tower on which Siddhar-tha’s mobile signal was active was Jeppinamog-aru — which is near the bridge where he was last seen.

A fisherman has claimed that he saw a person falling from the bridge at around 7 pm. The fisherman, Simon D'Souza, who stays near the bridge, was fishing in the Netravathi Monday evening.

“It was around 7 pm and I was near the 6th pillar of the bridge. I saw a person falling into the river near the 8th pillar. I do not know who he was. I tried to rescue him but failed as he was far away from my boat. He sank in the water,” Simon claimed.

Netravathi bridge is known as a suicide spot. Siddhartha who did his education in Mangaluru knows the city pretty well.

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