THE son of a Punjab IAS officer, Sanjay Popli, who is under arrest over corruption charges, died of gunshot injuries at his Chandigarh residence on Saturday afternoon even as a team was there to conduct searches in the case.
Kartik Popli, 26, was a law graduate and preparing for the judicial service examination. Popli’s family accused Vigilance Bureau officials of shooting him, alleging they were being harassed by agency officials.
Popli, who was brought by the Vigilance team for the search, told mediapersons at the Civil Hospital where he was taken for a medical check-up later that he was “eyewitness to the murder of my son”.
Denying the claim, Chandigarh’s Senior Superintendent of Police Kuldeep Chahal said the Vigilance team was on the premises of the Popli residence for investigations when they heard a gunshot and realised that Kartik had “shot himself with his licensed gun”. Chahal said they rushed him to hospital, where he was declared dead on arrival.
Vigilance Bureau Deputy Superintendent of Police Ajay Kumar said at a press conference in the evening that they never entered the house but made their recoveries from a store in the yard, and had “left” by the time the incident happened.
Kumar said the family appeared to be in “panic” as it was “a massive recovery”. “We feel extremely pained at this incident. We came to know of it after we had already returned from there. The allegations being levelled by the accused’s family are baseless.”
Alleging that Bureau officials had been harassing her and her son for the past few days, Popli’s wife Sri said that on Saturday, the team that came to their home took Kartik to the first floor. “They started pressuring him… They did not allow me to go upstairs, despite my requests. I somehow managed to catch a glimpse from the staircase and saw that they had a gun aimed at my son. I tried to go upstairs, but was stopped. Moments later, I heard a gunshot. They killed my son,” she said.
The Vigilance Bureau had arrested Popli, a 2008-batch officer posted as Director, Pensions, Punjab, on June 20. He was to be produced in the Mohali court Saturday, before which the Vigilance team searched his house.
The Bureau claimed to have seized over 12 kg of gold and silver from Popli’s house, apart from cash, Saturday. In a recovery memo, it listed “nine gold bricks (total weight 9 kg); 49 gold biscuits (total weight 3.16 kg); 12 gold coins (total weight 356 grams); three silver bricks (weighing 1 kg each), 18 silver coins (weight 10 gram each); four Apple iPhones, one mobile phone Samsung fold, two Samsung smart watches and and Rs. 3.5 lakh in cash”.
At the press conference in the evening, Vigilance Bureau DySP Kumar said: “The incident happened after the Vigilance Bureau’s team left after making recovery from a store in the yard. The Vigilance Bureau did not enter Popli’s house.”
Asked about the weapon with which Kartik allegedly shot himself, the officer said it was for the Chandigarh Police to investigate the same. Sources told The Indian Express a 7.65 mm licensed pistol was used in the firing, registered in Popli’s name. A forensic team has taken possession of the gun and recovered an empty bullet shell from the spot.
Popli was arrested following a video left by a Karnal-based contractor, Sanjay Kumar, on the anti-corruption helpline, purportedly showing the officer demanding second instalment for a bribe to allot a tender pertaining to sewerage works. Popli was the CEO of the Punjab Sewerage Board before he was transferred as Director, Pensions, in May.
Sandeep Wats, posted as assistant secretary in the board, was also arrested. The anti-corruption helpline had been set up by the AAP government soon after coming to power.
Kumar accused the two of seeking a cut of 1% to clear tenders for laying of a sewerage pipeline at Nawanshahr.
A day after Popli’s arrest, the Chandigarh Police registered a case against him under the Arms Act, after the Vigilance Bureau claimed to have found unaccounted live cartridges from his house during searches, and recovered 73 bullets.
On Friday, Popli was booked in a third case, along with an unidentified woman, under charges of extortion, false evidence and criminal conspiracy. The complainant is against Kumar, who claimed that fraud and rape charges had been pressed against him and two other contractors allegedly at the behest of Popli to pressure him not to go to the Vigilance Bureau.
As the Congress staged a protest at Popli’s residence, the ruling Aam Aadmi Party called Kartik’s death “an unfortunate incident” and said “the government would continue to adopt a zero tolerance approach against corruption”.
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