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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Bombay HC grants bail to BARC ex-CEO, says ‘can’t be detained indefinitely’

Partho Dasgupta was arrested on December 24, last year, on charges of criminal breach of trust and cheating.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
Updated: March 3, 2021 2:19:14 am
Partho Dasgupta

The Bombay High Court Tuesday granted bail to former CEO of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) Partho Dasgupta, who was arrested and jailed for his alleged involvement in the Television Rating Points (TRP) scam.

A single judge bench of Justice Prakash D Naik granted Dasgupta bail on furnishing a personal bond of Rs 2 lakh with one or more sureties in the like amount. The court allowed depositing of provisional cash bail immediately in lieu of sureties and Dasgupta will have to furnish solvent surety certificates within six weeks.

Dasgupta was arrested on December 24, last year, on charges of criminal breach of trust and cheating.

He will also have to deposit his passport with the investigating officer and report to the Mumbai Police on the first Saturday of every month for six months and thereafter once in three months. He was asked to appear before the court when summoned during trial, unless exempted by it.

The HC said that the investigating agency has arrested 15 people, including Dasgupta, in the case. Of them, 14 have been granted bail. “The applicant (Dasgupta) is the only person who is in custody,” the court noted in its 31-page order. “The sessions judge (who rejected Dasgupta’s bail plea on January 20) has referred to ‘face to face’ interrogation. It is not clear in what context face to face interrogation is required. The applicant cannot be incarcerated in custody till the arrest of the other accused,” Justice Naik said.

The court noted, “It is not clear how long the purported further investigation would continue. The applicant cannot be detained indefinitely in the facts of this case. The prosecution has already filed a chargesheet consisting of more than 4,000 pages.”

It added that the applicant is permanently residing in Mumbai and has been working in the media industry for the last 22 years. “The question of tampering does not arise because he is no longer working in BARC. He was CEO from June 2013 to November 2019,” the HC said.

Dasgupta had earlier sought release on interim bail in view of his health. He had also sought to be shifted to a private hospital in Mumbai for treatment. However, the HC had refused to intervene. The court, on February 16, reserved its verdict on Dasgupta’s plea.

Dasgupta’s counsel had told the bench that while all the accused in the case were out on bail or pre-arrest bail and despite the chargesheet being filed on January 11, 2020, stating that the investigation is over, he was still behind bars.

Senior counsel Aabad Ponda and advocate Arjun Singh Thakur, appearing for Dasgupta, said on Tuesday that the chargesheet had admitted a more severe role of another co-accused, Romil Ramgarhia – former chief operating officer of BARC – and he was granted bail within six days of his arrest.

Ponda said that as the trial is not going to start soon, keeping Dasgupta behind bars would have an adverse effect on his health, as he suffers from various ailments.

He added that the gifts in the form of jewellery, which his client had received from Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami as per the police, was actually used at the time of Dasgupta’s wedding and was purchased even before Goswami was born. Therefore, the allegations of gratification were misconceived, Ponda said.

However, Special Public Prosecutor Shishir Hiray, appearing for the Mumbai Police, opposed Dasgupta’s bail plea saying that the contents of the WhatsApp chats recovered from his cellphone has proved that he was very close to some news channels and masterminded the TRP manipulation.

Hiray added that Dasgupta’s further custodial interrogation is necessary, as he is not answering even the simplest of questions and that voluminous chats involving him have to be investigated.

He said that while Dasgupta’s post in BARC was of responsibility and he belonged to an organisation involved in measuring TRP ratings, he had misused it to benefit some channels. “There is a mention of lots of money in the panchanama, which need not have been transferred by Goswami unless there was some form of gratification,” he added.

Referring to the WhatsApp chats, Hiray said, “It shows the kind of relation between these two (Dasgupta and Goswami). There are many chats between these two, which have also discussed issues about national security.” However, the court said in its order, “Undisputedly, no offence is registered with regards to the alleged sensitive chats… There is no invocation of provisions of any law in respect to alleged sensitive chats, whether applicant shall be detained in custody for further investigation when the main chargesheet is filed, which is followed by supplementary chargesheet.”

When the judge asked Hiray who were the aggrieved persons in the case and if they included the advertisers, he said that anyone can “set law in motion”.

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