Mumbai: The Mumbai police told the Bombay High Court on Friday that it will not take any coercive action till January 29 against Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and other employees of ARG Outlier Media Pvt Ltd in the alleged fake TRP scam case. ARG is the parent company that runs all Republic TV channels.
A division bench of Justices S S Shinde and Manish Pitale also extended till January 29, the interim relief for employees of the complainant company in the case, Hansa Research Group, by directing the police to ensure they are called for inquiry for not more than two days a week. The bench also took on record the status report filed by the Mumbai police in its investigation in the alleged scam which came to light late last year.
ARG media had approached the HC last year seeking, among other things, that the police be restrained from taking coercive action against its employees. On Friday, ARG’s counsel senior advocate Harish Salve told the court that the allegations of the Mumbai police that Goswami paid bribes to rig TRP numbers was “nonsensical.” Salve said the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had registered a money laundering case related to the alleged TRP scam and was probing the same.
He said the HC must call for a status report from the ED, too, and if the contents of the status reports filed by the Mumbai police and the central agency differed much, the court would realise the case against ARG was malafide. The ED’s counsel, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, told the bench that the central agency had readied its status report and the court must accept it in a sealed cover.
The Mumbai police’s counsel, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, however, opposed the ED’s submissions. Sibal raised questions on the ED’s locus standi in the matter. He also reminded the court that the financial probe agency was not a party in the case before the HC.
Salve, however, told the HC that ARG had amended its plea and sought that the ED be impleaded as a party. The court then directed Sibal to file his reply to the amended plea and the ED being impleaded, by the next date of hearing.
While opposing the ED being joined as a party, Sibal went on to question the central agency’s “enthusiasm” to file its status report even before it was impleaded as a party. “I have strong objections to the ED appearing in this matter. Why is this enthusiasm..,” Sibal said.
Salve, however, argued that the police must not have any opposition to the court going through the ED’s report. “I dont understand how the State agency is trying to stop a Union agency from filing a report,” Salve said.
The court, though, refused to take the ED’s status report on record on Friday and said it will consider the same on the next date of hearing. On January 6, Sibal had told HC that the Mumbai police will not take any coercive action against Goswami and employees of ARG till January 15.
On Friday, as the HC granted the police time to file its reply to the amended petition and adjourned the hearing to January 29, Sibal submitted that he had no objection to such protection being extended till then. The HC accepted Sibal’s submission.
ARG Media has filed several pleas and interim applications in the HC urging the court to transfer the probe in the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or any other independent agency. The pleas also urge the court to stay in the meanwhile, any further investigation in the case, and to restrain the police from taking any coercive action against the petitioners, their employees, or investors.
The alleged racket was uncovered in October last year when the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) filed a complaint claiming certain television channels were rigging TRP numbers.