P & H High Court denies bail to Punjab IAS Officer, Sanjay Popli in corruption case

Punjab and Haryana High Court: In an application seeking grant of bail for Punjab IAS Officer, Sanjay Popli in corruption case, Gurvinder Singh Gill, J. dismissed the same keeping in view the extent of valuables recovered from his house and the fact that another case of disproportionate wealth and income is still pending for investigation. The Court found it unsafe to release Sanjay Popli at this stage as he may tamper with, destroy or conceal material evidence yet to be recovered by the investigating agency.

The facts of the case reveal that Sanjay Kumar, who is a contractor by profession, complained against Sanjay Popli to the Vigilance Bureau, Punjab on 4-06-2022. An FIR has been registered at Mohali under Sections 7, 7-A of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and Section 120-B of the Penal Code, 1860. The complainant was allotted work by the Water Supply and Sewerage Board for the amount of Rs. 7.30 crores and it is alleged that Sandeep Watts (Assistant Secretary, Punjab Water Supply and Sewerage Board) and Sanjay Popli (IAS, Chief Executive Officer, Punjab Water Supply and Sewerage Board) demanded 1% of the said amount, i.e., Rs. 7 lakhs as illegal gratification.

The complainant gave Rs.3.5 lakhs to Sanjay Popli through Sandeep Watts and another Rs. 5,000 demanded separately by Sandeep Watts as illegal gratification. The complainant prepared a video and furnished the same to Vigilance Bureau.

After investigation, Sanjay Popli and Sandeep Watts were arrested on 20-06-2022. Based on house search and the disclosure statement of Sanjay Popli, huge quantity of valuables was recovered including 10+ KG of gold, 3+ KG of silver, expensive electronic gadgets and currency notes of an amount of Rs 3,50,000. The Police registered a separate case against IAS Sanjay Popli for accumulation of disproportionate assets.

Being under arrest, Sanjay Popli requested to meet his son. He was permitted to meet his son on 23-6-2022 in the presence of a police official, but he insisted on meeting him in seclusion. They were permitted to meet in a separate room with CCTV cameras installed, whose camera recording revealed the two conversing with each other in ears. Sanjay Popli’s domestic servant’s statement also raises some doubts regarding the perplexed state and behavior of Sanjay Popli’s wife and son.

During the course of investigation at Punjab Water Supply and Sewerage Board’s office, more than 50 officials’ statements were recorded which also indicate towards the huge number of gratifications collected by Sanjay Popli in connivance with Sandeep Watts.

When the petitioner’s counsel pointed out that the alleged amount was paid to the co-accused Sandeep Watts as per FIR, and not Sanjay Popli, the Court noted that “While it is correct that the amount of Rs. 3.5 lakhs were allegedly paid to co-accused Sandeep Watts and not to petitioner, but there are other circumstances in the present case which point towards the complicity of the petitioner and also show that it is not a case which would warrant the release of petitioner on bail at this stage.”

The Court dismissed the bail application deeming it unsafe to release Sanjay Popli on bail at this stage, as he may tamper with the material evidence yet to be recovered. The Court particularly regarded the extent of gold and valuables recovered and investigation pending in another case which involves allegations of amassing wealth disproportionate to his income.

[Sanjay Popli v. State of Punjab, 2023 SCC OnLine P&H 69, decided on 30-01-2023]

Judgment by Justice Gurvinder Singh Gill.

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Petitioner: Advocate R.S. Cheema and Advocate Sumanjit Kaur;

For Respondent: Advocate Gaurav Garg Dhuriwala.

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