The Bombay High Court Tuesday granted bail to former CEO of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) Partho Dasgupta for his alleged involvement in the Television Rating Points Scam (TRP Scam).
A single-judge bench of Justice Prakash D Naik granted Dasgupta bail on furnishing a personal bond of Rs. 2 lakh and solvent sureties. The court allowed depositing of provisional cash bail immediately and Dasgupta will have to furnish solvent surety certificates within six weeks.
Dasgupta was arrested on December 24 on charges of criminal breach of trust and cheating.
Dasgupta will have to deposit his passport and will have to report to the crime branch, Mumbai Police on the first Saturday of every month for six months and thereafter once in three months. He is also asked to cooperate with the investigation and appear during the trial when summoned.
Pending hearing and disposal of the bail application, Dasgupta had also sought release on interim bail in view of his health and treatment or sought to be shifted to PD Hinduja Hospital, a private hospital in Mumbai for his treatment. However, HC, on January 22, had refused urgent interim relief to Dasgupta and did not intervene.
The HC on February 16 had concluded the hearing and reserved its verdict on Dasgupta’s plea.
Dasgupta’s counsel had told the bench that 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, he was still behind bars.
Senior counsel Aabad Ponda and advocate Arjun Singh Thakur for Dasgupta submitted that the chargesheet had admitted a more severe role of another co-accused Romil Ramgarhia, former Chief Operating Officer (COO) of BARC, and he was granted bail within six days of his arrest.
Further Ponda submitted that as the trial was not going to start soon, keeping Dasgupta behind bars would have an adverse effect on his health as he suffers from various ailments including those related to the spinal cord.
Ponda further submitted that BARC, which is a responsible and only organisation involved in measuring TRP ratings, has an ‘outlier policy’ which asks the authority to delete ‘abnormal viewership/ activity’ which includes substantial number of persons watching certain channels at odd hours and action has been taken.
Ponda added that the gifts in the form of jewellery, which his client had received from Republic TV editor-in-chief 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.
However, Special Public Prosecutor Shishir Hiray for the Mumbai Police opposed 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.
Hiray submitted 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.
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.”
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.”
When the judge asked Hiray as to who were aggrieved persons in the case and if they included the advertisers, he said that anyone can ‘set law in motion’ even if not an advertiser.
He also said that BARC former COO’s order is being challenged and sought further custody of Dasgupta for interrogation seeking dismissal of his application and said that Dasgupta being an influential person, can tamper with the evidence.