The Bombay High Court today granted bail to former CEO of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) Partho Dasgupta, who is presently detained in Taloja Central Prison for his alleged involvement in the Television Rating Points Scam (TRP Scam).
Bail has been granted subject to his furnishing a bond of Rs. 2 lakhs. As part of the bail conditions, Dasgupta is required to visit the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police on the first Saturday of every month for six months.
Justice PD Naik had reserved his verdict in Dasgupta’s bail plea two weeks ago. Dasgupta had sought for bail under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) on merits as well as on medical grounds.
Dasgupta had approached High Court after the Mumbai Sessions Court rejected his bail plea in January.
On January 22, Dasgupta’s lawyer Arjun Singh Thakur had moved the High Court at 7 pm to seek urgent intervention in his client’s transfer from JJ Hospital, Mumbai to the Taloja Central Prison after his discharge.
Justice Naik refused to intervene after Chief Public Prosecutor Deepak Thakare assured the Court that the Taloja medical officers would continue treating Dasgupta in accordance with the JJ Hospital discharge note.
During the bail hearing, Senior Advocate Aabad Ponda and Advocate Shardul Singh made submissions on behalf of Dasgupta.
They informed the Court that a voluminous chargesheet has been filed against Dasgupta within the 60-day period as specified under the provisions of the CrPC.
Their contention was that if interrogation and investigation was not completed, the chargesheet against him should not have been filed at all.
Ponda further argued that the WhatsApp chats between Dasgupta and journalist Arnab Goswami mentioned in the chargesheet could not be relied upon by the Mumbai Police to keep Dasgupta in detention as those were mere “loose talks” between two individuals.
Another ground Ponda raised was that the other accused named in the chargesheet were granted bail or protection from coercive action.
He stated that the Republic TV group was protected from arrest as per the statement before the Division Bench of this Court.
Ponda also contended that according to the chargesheet, the Chief Operating Officer of BARC, Romil Ramgarhia, was directly involved in the manipulation of TRPs whereas Dasgupta was merely negligent. Yet, Ramgarhia was easily given bail because according to the police, investigation against him was complete even though no chargesheet had been filed.
He argued that despite declaring them as the “king-pin” or “main brain” of the whole scam, they were released on bail and such bail was not even challenged by the Mumbai Police later.
Refuting the charges that Dasgupta had accepted watches and silver jewellery from Goswami in return for manipulating the TRPs of his channels, Ponda stated that there was enough evidence to prove that those items were purchased by Dasgupta and his wife with their own money around the year 2000.
He also rebutted the charges of violation of regulations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) submitting that the charges were not against BARC and in any event did not amount to criminal proceedings as the offences were not criminal offences.
While concluding their submissions, Ponda and Singh submitted that while the application was not purely a medical bail application, it could not be ignored by the Court that Dasgupta suffers from severe medical conditions which would cause him difficulty while in judicial custody.
Special Public Prosecutor Shishir Hiray made submissions on behalf of the Mumbai Police, opposing the bail application.
Hiray pointed out that even though the Chief Operating Officer of BARC, Romil Ramgarhia, was in charge of the finances, Dasgupta was the main executive officer and the managing director of the company, which is a more important position.
He also argued that the person occupying the post of CEO needs clearance from the Central Ministry, which is not a requirement in other companies.
His primary contention was that Dasgupta had thick relations with Goswami, which was evident from the WhatsApp chats which was submitted through the supplementary chargesheet filed by the Mumbai Police.
The Crime Branch of Mumbai Police is taking all measures to conduct the interrogation of Dasgupta while in judicial custody, Hiray added.
He stated that the officers had been taking permission from the Court to investigate Dasgupta in Taloja jail.
After hearing both sides at length, the Court reserved the matter for orders.