In a significant development in the TRP manipulation case, Hansa Research Group – the BARC-affiliated company whose deputy general manager was the complainant for the Mumbai Police’s FIR – has filed a petition in the Bombay High Court asking for the investigation of the scam to be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The case is currently being investigated by the Mumbai Police’s Crime Branch, with a key role being played by Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Vaze, who the Hansa Research Group accuses of “threats” and “harassment” to make false statements.
According to Hansa Research Group, Vaze has been pressurising them to disown an alleged report by the company, which Republic TV has been using since 10 October to claim that Republic and not others have been involved in the scam.
Republic calls this alleged report the ‘Hansa Report’, but Hansa Research group says they have no idea what document this is, and have in fact filed a case in the Bombay civil courts to get Republic to stop referring to the document as such.
Alleged Harassment by Crime Branch
Although Hansa Research Group informed the Crime Branch on 12 October that they don’t know what this Hansa Report is, and that they had not authorised Republic TV to show any of their documents, they say that Vaze
“was not ready to take anything short of a statement by both the officers disowning the said purported report shown on Republic TV and thus threatened both [the CEO of Hansa, Praveen Nijhara and the deputy GM complainant Nitin Kashinath Deokar] with their arrest and indefinite detention and confiscation of their mobile phones.”
Both Nijhara and Deokar were detained at the Crime Branch by Vaze till 9:30 pm on 12 October and were then told to come back the next day. On 13 October, Vaze again allegedly pressurised them as well as two other officials from Hansa who had accompanied them to say that what Republic TV had shown as the ‘Hansa Report’ was fake.
When the Hansa executives again explained that they could not do so as they didn’t know what Republic TV had shown, Vaze again allegedly threatened them with detention, and kept them at the station till 8 pm, after which the CEO was kept back for some more time.
Similar instances were repeated on 14 and 15 October as well, before the company was served with a notice to submit documents to the Crime Branch, which they complied with on 19 October.
However, on 26 October, CEO Nijhara was told by Vaze to come to the Crime Branch office along with all the directors and the VP-Finance of the company. They all attended the police station where they were questioned about the FIR, their civil suit against Republic, and whether Hansa Research Group’s sister company Hansa Vision which is in the advertising business, had placed advertisements on Republic TV.
When one of the directors confirmed this, Vaze “at around 4 PM after abruptly telling the Directors that ‘we are arresting you’, [seized] their mobile phones and retained them without giving any reason whatsoever.” Their lawyers were allegedly not allowed to meet them, and they were only allowed to leave at 11:15 pm.
“However, in spite of informing and requesting the Superior Authorities as well as higher ups in the Mumbai Police department there has been no respite to the ordeal faced by the Petitioners,” the petition reads.
Several other employees of Hansa Research Group, including its HR Head and Operations Manager, were repeatedly called in for questioning, and made to submit details and documents at extremely short notice. They claim that this pressurisation continues even to the time of filing the writ petition.
Probe Into Hansa-Republic Links
The petition notes that reports were published in Mumbai-based newspaper Mid-day on 27 and 28 October about the Mumbai Police probing a ‘suspicious transactions’ between Hansa and Republic TV.
Vaze gave a quote to the newspaper saying that the police had received a preliminary audit report showing a suspicious transaction of Rs 32 lakh between Hansa Research and Republic TV.
The company immediately issued a press release clarifying that it had no business dealings with Republic, and that its sister company Hansa Vision, not it, had entered into deals with Arnab Goswami’s channel. Because of its routine business, they said, Hansa Vision had purchased advertising time on Republic TV in the past, the last time from September 2017 to October 2018.
Hansa issued further clarifications, including how they had explained the Hansa group of companies’ operations to the police, but despite this, Vaze and the Crime Branch had not taken this into account.
Request to Transfer Investigation
As a result, Hansa Research Group says that they have approached the high court as they have no other remedy to restrain Vaze and his team from pursuing “illegal and highly objectionable conduct”, and treating them “with great bias and prejudice”.
Reiterating their cooperation and lack of involvement in the TRP scam, Hansa Research Group said that
“Therefore, as illustrated hereinabove the only object to call and keep the Petitioners and other office bearers to the Crime Branch is the keep them detained and to pressurise and frustrate them so that they make a false statement according to the desire of [Vaze] for reasons best known to him.”
They claim that there is a “battle like situation” between the Mumbai Police and some sections of the media over the last few months, and that Hansa is being caught in the middle as collateral damage. “All the harassment that has been caused to the Petitioners by [Vaze] is only with a view to extract a statement, albeit false” from them that the ‘Hansa Report’ that Republic TV have been bandying about is fake.
Since the Crime Branch was threatening to book Hansa under a false complaint “only because they have named one channel in the FIR, that too not as an Accused, and not named other TV channels”, they say that there is clearly malafide intentions by Vaze and the crime branch to harass and pressurise them to make a false statement.
They have also pointed out that Vaze is an accused in a case by the Maharashtra CID from 2008, where nothing much has happened despite a chargesheet being filed, though the next hearing in that case is on 12 November.
Since the CBI is also investigating similar allegations of TRP manipulation, Hansa says “it would be thus appropriate in the interest of justice for one central agency like Central Bureau of Investigation to take over all the investigations including the one in the present matter.”
They have said that in the alternative, it could be given to the state CID or another independent agency, and monitored by the courts. They have also asked the Bombay High Court to stay the fake TRP investigation, and issue orders to the Mumbai Police to not take coercive action against them, and stop the alleged threats and harassment.
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