The Bombay High Court on Saturday asked the Maharashtra government, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh and two other police officials to respond to a plea filed by Hansa Research Group Pvt Ltd, the complainant in the television rating points (TRP) scam, alleging harassment by the police. The petition filed by the company and three of its senior officials alleged that the city police was conducting the probe in an "illegal and highly objectionable" manner.
The petition claimed that the company's officials were being "harassed and coerced into making false statements" and sought for the probe to be transferred to the CBI. The petition has named Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Waze and Assistant Commissioner of Police Shashank Sandbhor as the ones who were harassing them.
On Saturday, advocate Devadutt Kamat, appearing for the government, Param Bir Singh and the two police officers, refuted the allegations and said the petitioners are being called for questioning only when required. He further told the court that investigation in the case is still on and certain material has also come to the fore against the petitioners.
The bench, however, noted that since the petitioners are complainant in the case, they should not be called to the police station without any reason. "They are the complainant and not the accused in the case. We are not saying stop the investigation, but call them only when required and on specific days and for reasonable time," Justice Shinde said.
Kamat agreed and told the court that the petitioners would be called for questioning twice a week for a reasonable time. The bench then posted the petition for further hearing on November 25 and directed the respondents (the government, Param Bir Singh, Sachin Waze and Shashank Sandbhor) to file their affidavits.
The petitioner's advocate CS Vaidyanathan argued that the police was pressurising the petitioners to implicate certain news channels. "The police were repeatedly coercing the petitioners to make false and incorrect statements. When the petitioners expressed inability to do so, they were threatened by the police saying they would be booked in the same offence and placed under arrest," the petition said.
The company claimed that their senior officials are being harassed by the city police, which calls them for recording of statement at odd hours and then detaining them in the Crime Branch office for long hours and threatening that they would be placed under arrest. "There has been a constant threat by the police that the petitioners would be arrested for conniving and being hand in gloves with Republic TV," the petition said.
It also sought a stay on the investigation being conducted by the city police in the case and a direction to not take any coercive steps against the petitioners. The plea claimed that the FIR was registered on October 6, 2020 and since then the police has been harassing the petitioner company and its officials, asking them to make false and incorrect statements.
"Later, media reports quoting the police said that preliminary forensic audit report has revealed suspicious transaction of Rs 32 lakh between the petitioner company and Republic TV. The petitioner has no dealing with Republic TV directly," the petition claimed. "The petitioner's group company Hansa Vision had a transaction with Republic TV in 2017. There has been no dealing in the year 2018 and 2019," it added.
The petition claimed that the company and its officials are suffering collateral damage as they are being used by the police to fight their battle against certain sections of the media. Hansa Research Group had lodged a complaint against its employee Vishal Bhandari on October 6 after he was found allegedly accepting payments illegally to make certain households watch specific TV channels, allegedly to fudge TV TRP ratings.
Ten arrests have been made so far, including those of former employees of the company. The police, after preliminary inquiry, had claimed that two local regional channels and Republic TV was also involved in the scam.