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Suicide or Murder? Varying narratives cloud the truth behind arrested IAS officer’s son’s death

Sanjay Popli, arrested on corruption charges, has alleged his son Kartik was 'murdered'; a family friend says it might have been suicide driven by fear and intimidation by police.

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New Delhi: The Punjab Vigilance Bureau and the Chandigarh Police find themselves entangled in a controversy after the death of Kartik Popli, son of arrested IAS officer Sanjay Popli.

The 27-year-old died from a bullet wound Saturday during a search of the Popli residence. The police have called it a suicide while the family has alleged murder and accused the cops of ‘torturing’ their son.

On 20 June, Sanjay Popli, a 2008 batch IAS officer, was arrested on charges of corruption during his time as the CEO of the Punjab Water Supply and Sewerage Board. He was transferred as Director of Pensions in May.

Sanjay Popli had been brought by the vigilance bureau to his residence for the search Saturday. Speaking to the media in the evening after the incident, Sanjay Popli, on his way out of the hospital where he was taken for a medical check-up, said that he is an “eyewitness” to his son’s “murder”.

“They tortured my child and killed him,” alleged Shree Popli, Kartik’s mother while speaking to the media Saturday. “They also tortured my domestic help for evidence. The entire vigilance bureau and the DSP [deputy superintendent of police] are under pressure from the chief minister. This is the way they are killing people.”

“First Sanjay was implicated in a false case and now they have shot my son…. I saw vigilance officials pointing a gun at Kartik’s temple. They had taken him upstairs to his room. They pushed me from the stairs and I heard a gunshot. Sanjay was on the ground floor. Our phones were taken away and I saw that he was being tortured and humiliated by the vigilance officials,” she added.

However, a family friend, in a conversation with ThePrint, has said that it appears Kartik shot himself.

According to the family friend, who wished to not be named, the visits to the vigilance bureau after his father’s arrest had “really scarred” Kartik. “He was being intimidated and he was scared that he might get implicated as a co-conspirator. On the first day that the vigilance team visited their house, Kartik had just come home from dinner with his father. He was extremely worried that he would be framed along with him. The family said that they had made his father sign on certain papers”.

During the Saturday search, Kartik, the family friend added, “went up to his room, sat on his chair and shot himself. He said that his father was told by the officers that they will implicate his wife and Kartik.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Chandigarh’s Senior Superintendent of Police Kuldeep Chahal denied allegations of torture. “There was absolutely no torture to the deceased or any family member. The boy shot himself with Sanjay Popli’s licensed gun. We have sent it for forensics. Autopsy is awaited”.

Sources told ThePrint that an empty bullet has been recovered from the spot and that the pistol used was a 7.65 mm pistol. Kartik suffered a gunshot injury to his head.

Kartik completed his schooling from Chandigarh’s Yadavindra Public School and had done his graduation from D.A.V. College, Chandigarh. He went on to complete a three-year law programme at the O.P. Jindal Global University, from where he graduated in 2019. On his social media accounts, he identified himself as a ‘lawyer, traveller and selenophile’. His Instagram profile shows that he loved to travel, liked dogs and had an interest in photography.

Speaking to ThePrint, a former batch mate and close friend of Kartik said: “He was a fun-loving, energetic boy who loved photography. He was preparing for the judiciary exams.”

“He was very close to his father and they would go trekking together,” the friend added.

Kartik was Sanjay and Shree Popli’s only son.

When ThePrint asked a source if Kartik was distraught or disturbed by the raid, they said: “Yes, there was a panic in the house, due to the recovery [of items]. We are conducting a background check to verify what led to the incident”.

The vigilance bureau claimed to have seized 12kg gold, 3kg silver, four Apple iPhones, one Samsung Fold Phone and two Samsung smartwatches from the storeroom of the Popli house in Sector 11, Chandigarh. The 12 kg gold allegedly includes nine gold bricks of 1 kg each, 49 gold biscuits and 12 gold coins; and the silver includes three silver bricks, each weighing a kilogram and 18 silver coins. Rs 3.5 lakh was also recovered in cash, say police.

In a press conference after the incident, Vigilance Bureau Deputy Superintendent Ajay Kumar said, “The incident happened after the Vigilance Bureau’s team had left after making a recovery from a store in the yard. The Vigilance Bureau did not enter Popli’s residence”.

Also read: The corrupt won’t be spared, says Punjab CM Mann. Cites ‘One MLA, one pension’ as example

‘The IAS’s cut’

Popli was arrested on 20 June in a bribery case after a Karnal-based contractor Sanjay Kumar filed a complaint on the Punjab state’s anti-corruption helpline, giving as evidence a video that purportedly shows Popli demanding bribes for allotment of tender for sewage work.

The IAS officer had allegedly demanded 1 per cent commission, amounting to Rs 7 lakh, from Kumar in a Rs 7 crore sewage project at Nawanshahr. Sandeep Vats, Popli’s assistant secretary in the Water and Sewerage Board, who was also arrested, allegedly received Rs 3.5 lakh.

The whistleblower, Kumar had used a pen camera to record Vats receiving the bribe. He alleged that soon after he was allotted the tender, he received a call from Vats, asking for the ‘IAS’s cut’. Kumar didn’t immediately complain against the two officials, and only took the step after Vats allegedly kept following up with him even after Popli’s transfer in May.

A day after his arrest in the corruption case, Sanjay Popli was booked under the Arms Act after the Vigilance Bureau claimed to have recovered unaccounted live cartridges from his house and 73 bullets — 41 of 7.65 bore, 30 of .22 bore and two of .32 bore.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: ‘In Punjab, if someone demands bribe, don’t refuse…’ — CM Bhagwant Mann has a solution


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