TRP scam: HC grants bail to BARC’s ex-CEO Partho Dasgupta

Mumbai: After spending over two months in jail in the alleged TRP rigging scam, ex-Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) CEO Partho Dasgupta was given bail on Tuesday by the Bombay High Court which said his detention was not necessary and there was no propriety in keeping him behind bars.

Justice P D Naik granted bail to Dasgupta (55) on a personal bond of Rs 2 lakh and two solvent sureties of the same amount.

The former BARC CEO, a key accused in the alleged Television Rating Points (TRP) rigging scam, was the only one among the 15 persons arrested in the case to be currently in jail.

The facts and circumstances show that the material part of the investigation is completed. Hence, custodial detention of the said accused is not necessary, Justice Naik said in his bail order.

If Dasgupta is released on bail, it will not hamper further investigation, the order said, adding, So there is no propriety in keeping the said accused behind bars till conclusion of trial.

“The bail plea is allowed. The applicant (Dasgupta) shall be released on bail after furnishing a personal bond of Rs 2 lakh and two sureties of the same amount,” the HC said.

The court allowed the former CEO of BARC, a top TV audience measurement agency, to furnish a temporary cash surety of the same amount for a period of six weeks, until which he would have to submit the solvent sureties.

The permission was given after Dasgupta’s counsel Aabad Ponda told the court the process of preparing and submitting the solvent sureties will take time.

The judge directed Dasgupta, who was the BARC CEO from June 2013 to November 2019, to surrender his passport to the police station concerned and not leave India without permission of the trial court.

“The applicant shall attend the police station concerned on the first Saturday of each month for a period of six months. After that, he shall appear once in three months,” the HC said.

The court directed Dasgupta to attend the case trial as and when required and not tamper with evidence or influence witnesses in the case.

Justice Naik, in the order, noted that the complainant in the case, Vishal Bhandari, who used to work with Hansa Research Group had disclosed to the police about the alleged manipulation of TRPs and suspected role of BARC and Hansa Group in the scam, unearthed in October last year.

Hansa had been tasked with installing barometers, which record viewership data (which channel has been watched and for how long) at sample households.

“The FIR is based on the information provided by Vishal Bhandari. It is pertinent to note that Vishal Bhandari has himself been impleaded as an accused in the case.

“It is relevant to note that Vishal Bhandari had not disclosed the involvement of the applicant (Dasgupta) in any manner, the order said.

The court noted that the Mumbai police have already filed a charge-sheet and a supplementary charge-sheet in the case.

It is not clear as to how long the purported further investigation would continue. The applicant cannot be detained indefinitely in the facts of this case, the order said.

The court noted that till date 15 persons, including Dasgupta, had been arrested in the case.

It said, 14 accused have been granted bail. The applicant is the only person who is in custody.” 

Dasgupta approached the HC in January after a sessions court rejected his bail plea while noting he had played a vital role in the scam and was its alleged “mastermind”.

He was arrested on December 24 last year and is in jail since then.

Dasgupta is accused of having misused his official position and conniving with ARG Outlier Media, the company which runs Republic TV channels, and with Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, to allegedly manipulate TRPs.

The Republic TV has denied any wrongdoing.

The Mumbai police, while opposing Dasgupta’s bail plea, had said he played a “direct role” in the alleged manipulation of TRPs for TV news channels.

The police had relied on Dasgupta’s purported chats with Goswami where they allegedly discussed manipulation of TRPs, measured by recording viewership data at sample households and crucial for attracting advertisers.

Dasgupta’s counsel Ponda had earlier urged the HC to grant him bail, saying the police had already filed their charge-sheet and his client’s custodial interrogation was not required any more.

Ponda had also told the HC that Dasgupta’s WhatsApp chats, including those with co-accused Goswami, were merely “loose talks”.

On January 16, Dasgupta was rushed to the state-run JJ Hospital here from the Taloja prison in neighbouring Navi Mumbai after his blood sugar levels went up and he fell unconscious.

He was admitted to the ICU of the J J Hospital and was discharged on January 22.

Following his discharge, his lawyers had moved the HC seeking an urgent hearing of his bail plea.