Kultar Singh, a retired deputy inspector general of Punjab Police, walked out of Amritsar Central Jail on 28 March, barely over a month into an eight-year jail term for his role in a 2004 mass-suicide case. On 17 February this year, a sessions court in Punjab had held Kultar guilty for abetment of suicide, criminal intimidation, criminal conspiracy, forgery and extortion by threatening with an accusation of an offence that is punishable with death or imprisonment.
The mass-suicide case pertained to five members of a family who lived in a three-storied house in Amritsar’s Chowk Karori locality. On the night intervening 30 and 31 October 2004, the family members—Jaswant Kaur, her son Hardeep Singh and his wife, along with the couple’s two children, both minors—killed themselves and left various copies of suicide notes detailing the circumstances that led to their death. In them, Hardeep wrote that he had killed his father. Four relatives and Kultar found out about this. Instead of following the law, all five of them extorted lakhs of rupees from Hardeep and continued to blackmail him. Post the suicide—according to the February judgment—Hardev Singh, a police officer, tampered with the evidence to keep Kultar out of jail.
All six—the four relatives, Hardev and Kultar—were convicted in February. However, by June end, they had been granted parole, as part of the government decision to decongest prisons in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak. “With an entire system protecting Kultar Singh, we were glad that justice prevailed after more than 15 years,” Sarabjit Singh Verka, an advocate who was the complainant in the case against the senior policeman, said. “But courtesy COVID-19, he and other accused are out—this case looks jinxed.”
It is hard to rubbish Verka’s scepticism. Between 2004 and 2020, Kultar faced multiple allegations—of not just his role in the suicide case, but also of large-scale corruption—and somehow, he managed to stay out of prison. Documents show that Punjab’s home department was in the know of the corruption allegations even before the mass-suicide case, and that the police had led multiple internal probes against the cop. Yet, Kultar rose through the ranks of the police to become a DIG and also received a medal for meritorious service from the President of India, in 2006.
More than six months before the suicide, AA Siddiqui, the director general of Punjab Police wrote a letter to PS Gill, then the DIG of Amritsar’s Border Range. The letter, dated 11 April 2004, stated that “a reference has been made from the Home Department” that Kultar was indulging in large-scale corruption and land grabbing. Based on reliable inputs, Siddiqui laid out the modus operandi of this corruption in the letter. He asked Gill to make discreet enquiries in this regard and send comments within 15 days.
On 13 August, Siddiqui sent a letter to SK Sinha, the principal secretary to the chief minister, regarding the accusations against Kultar, who was a senior superintendent of police, or SSP, at the time. The letter said that there are reliable inputs for six allegations against Kultar, three of which clearly showed that he was participating and enabling multiple chains of corruption in the police force. The DGP wrote that station-house officers, among others, collected money from “bad elements every month,” and gave it to Kultar as well as other police officers. Another point was that one superintendent, Harmanbir Singh, used to conduct enquiries on rich persons, extort money from them, and give a share to Kultar. Traffic in-charges would pay Kultar every month after collecting money from transporters and presidents of unions, the letter mentioned. Siddiqui wrote that many gazette officers were also “indulging in similar acts and land grabbing with his blessings.”
The letter mentioned there was a rumour that Kultar had taken Rs 12 lakh “through Manjit Singh,” a Congress leader, and an individual called Kittu in connection with a land dispute. Another point that Siddiqui wrote was particularly discomfiting—Kultar had taken about Rs 12 lakh from Gurdev Singh, a petrol pump owner in Amritsar, whose wife had died by suicide. The DGP also listed names and contact details of people who worked as Kultar’s “mediators.” Referring to the letter, Siddiqui told me this year, “Of course, all this was based on duly verified intelligence report.”