The Bombay High Court on Tuesday concluded hearing and reserved its verdict on a plea by former Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Partho Dasgupta seeking interim relief of two weeks’ bail or directions that he should be shifted to a private hospital for treatment.
Dasgupta was arrested in the television rating points (TRP) scam case and is in Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai.
On Tuesday, Special Public Prosecutor Shishir Hiray, representing Mumbai Police, submitted a status report of the investigation in a sealed cover to the division bench hearing the matter. He also continued arguments opposing Dasgupta’s bail plea and said the contents of the WhatsApp chats recovered from Dasgupta’s cellphone proved that he was very close to some news channels and had masterminded the TRP manipulation.
“We have taken all measures to investigate the case even when he was in judicial custody. We have also given him a questionnaire, but he (Dasgupta) is not answering even the simplest of the questions. There are voluminous chats which have to be investigated.”
Hiray added, “Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and Dasgupta were such thick friends that at one point Goswami even said Dasgupta was his alter ego.”
Moreover, Hiray submitted that the post of managing director and CEO was equivalent in terms of authority and therefore Dasgupta could not hide behind the argument that his powers as CEO were limited and he had no role to play in manipulating the TRP.
Hiray said the post in which Dasgupta was appointed was of responsibility and belonged to an only organisation involved in measuring TRP ratings and 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 members which have also discussed issues about national security.” Hiray concluded his arguments stating that the applicant, being an influential person, can tamper with the evidence. He sought dismissal of the plea.
Senior counsel Aabad Ponda for Dasgupta, in his rejoinder, opposed submission of status report in sealed cover and said the chargesheet had admitted a more severe role of another co-accused Romil Ramgarhia, former chief operating officer (COO) of BARC, who was granted bail within six days of his arrest.
Ponda added that since the trial wouldn’t start soon, keeping Dasgupta behind bars would have an adverse effect on his health as he suffers from various ailments. He said while all the accused in the TRP case were out on bail or pre-arrest bail and despite the chargesheet being filed on January 11, 2020, which showed the investigation was completed, Dasgupta was still behind bars.
Ponda further argued that the statement of the BARC employee which allegedly suggested that Dasgupta had not taken any action on his complaint related to “sudden spike” in ratings of some news channel could be negligence on the part of Dasgupta and Ramgarhia but not a crime.
He also submitted that advertisers had not made any grievance of being induced to pay more to the channels whose ratings had been allegedly rigged and sought his release on interim bail.
Ponda added that the gifts in the form of jewellery, which his client had received from Goswami as per the police, was actually used at the time of his (Dasgupta) wedding and the same was purchased even before Goswami was born, therefore, the allegations of “gratification” were misconceived. The court said it had concluded hearing on the arguments and reserved its order.