Is CBI FIR the End of Mumbai Police’s Investigation of Fake TRPs?
Despite concerns, the recent SC order on the Sushant Singh Rajput investigation should have no bearing here.
Two weeks after the Mumbai Police began its investigation into the allegations of TRP manipulation, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has got its own probe into the racket going, following a reference from the Uttar Pradesh government.
The CBI have taken over an FIR registered by the Lucknow Police on 17 October on the basis of a complaint by the regional director of an advertising company called Golden Rabbit Communications.
Questions have already begun to be raised about this move by the CBI, given the effect this might have on the Mumbai Police’s ongoing investigation, which has implicated Arnab Goswami’s Republic channels – currently engaged in a slugfest with the Maharashtra government and the police.
Central to understanding the connotations of the CBI’s move, and seeing where the case will go now are the following questions:
What exactly are the CBI investigating? Is this the same as what the Mumbai Police are looking into?
Does this mean the end of the Mumbai Police’s investigation? Will the CBI probe automatically supersede theirs?
And, does the Supreme Court’s recent order handing over investigation of the Sushant Singh Rajput case to the CBI have any bearing on this case?
Here’s what we know at this point.
THE CBI’S INVESTIGATION
The Quint has accessed the FIR registered at Hazratganj Police Station in Lucknow. The complaint that it is based on, by one Kamal Sharma of Golden Rabbit Communications, goes into great detail to explain the TRP calculation process, the importance of TRPs to advertisers and investors, and therefore, the losses that can be caused by rigging TRPs.
However, it makes no reference to any specific details of the scam, including who is alleged to have manipulated the TRP system or how they went about doing so. All the complaint says on that front is:
“I have reliable information that certain unknown accused have in furtherance of a common intention, entered into a criminal conspiracy to cheat and also commit the offence of criminal breach of trust, forgery and in the process gain wrongfully by manipulating Television Rating Points commonly referred to as TRPs.”
No TV channels or individuals have been named with regard to this claim.
Contrast this with the FIR being investigated by the Mumbai Police. They had already nabbed one of the people responsible for the racket, and their FIR was based on a complaint from the BARC-affiliated research agency that employed him, which detailed how he had bribed empanelled households in Mumbai to watch certain channels (including India Today), how he was paid for this, and the findings of the agency’s audit team.
This lack of specifics in the CBI investigation means that we don’t know if it will be focused on a ratings scam in UP or other states, or whether the same scamsters are involved. The investigation can also go further than what the Mumbai Police were looking at, both in terms of geographical scope (though the Mumbai Police had said they had sent teams to arrest accused persons outside Maharasthra as well) along with the channels being investigated.
After their preliminary inquiries, the Mumbai Police had found that Republic (which hadn’t been named in their original FIR) were allegedly heavily involved in the racket, while allegations against India Today had not been substantiated. Republic alleges that this is because of a vendetta by the Maharashtra government.
The CBI, due to the open-endedness of their investigation, can no doubt arrive at a different conclusion from the Mumbai Police.
In terms of the offences probed, again, the CBI’s FIR is broader in scope, looking at the offence of forgery in addition to cheating and criminal breach of trust (which the Mumbai Police are investigating.
WILL THE MUMBAI POLICE HAVE TO DROP THEIR INVESTIGATION NOW?
At this point, there is no need for the Mumbai Police to close their investigation. Just because the CBI has begun its own probe does not mean that a state police force has to abandon their own.
The CBI does not have the power to unilaterally take away a case from a state police force – that is in fact why the UP government had to make a reference to transfer the Lucknow case to them. Under the provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, which governs how the CBI operates, the CBI can in fact only conduct an investigation in another state with that state’s permission.
As the police and law and order fall within the purview of the State List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, even the Centre cannot pass an order for the CBI investigation to supersede the Mumbai Police’s.
However, what could throw a spanner in the works is an order of the Bombay High Court or the Supreme Court of India. The high courts and the apex court have the power to order a CBI investigation into a matter regardless of state government consent, and can also direct the closure of the investigation by the state police force.
With regard to this whole TRP controversy, Republic has already made a plea for the investigation to be transferred to the CBI – first in the Supreme Court, and then in the Bombay High Court after the SC told him to first go there. That the CBI has begun its probe so soon after Republic made this request is one of the reasons its move has been viewed with suspicion.
During a hearing in the matter on Monday, 19 October, the issue of transferring the case to the CBI was not taken up by the court, which was instead looking at the issue of summons being issued to Republic staff. However, now that the CBI has begun its own probe, it is likely that this will be made an issue at the next hearing on 5 November – prior to which the Mumbai Police have to submit some details of their investigation to the court in a sealed cover.
DOES THE COURT HAVE TO HAND OVER INVESTIGATION TO THE CBI, LIKE IN THE SUSHANT SINGH RAJPUT CASE?
Many lawyers and commentators on social media have raised concerns that, in keeping with the Supreme Court’s recent order handing over investigation of the Sushant case, the courts will also order the Mumbai Police investigation to be handed over to the CBI.
This is not strictly speaking a requirement. The apex court in that case actually rejected the transfer of the investigation to the CBI (as requested by Rhea Chakraborty), and the order was primarily focused on whether or not the police in Bihar could conduct an investigation into the matter. That question is not at issue in this case.
The court’s eventual decision to hand over the case to the CBI arose out of the conflict that had arisen between the Mumbai and Patna Police in that matter, including when officers from the latter force were detained upon arrival in Mumbai.
The court held that “because both states are making acrimonious allegations of political interference against each other, the legitimacy of the investigation has come under a cloud ... In such situation, there is reasonable apprehension of truth being a casualty and justice becoming a victim.”
It was because of this consideration that the CBI was handed investigation of the case. Also note that the Mumbai Police had not registered any FIR at the time, and was instead conducting the regular procedural inquiry into a case of suicide.
Moreover, at the end of his order, Justice Hrishikesh Roy specifically said that the order in that case would not be a precedent for other matters, saying:
“Before parting, it is made clear that the conclusion and observations in this order is only for disposal of this petition and should have no bearing for any other purpose.”
Therefore, while it does seem like the way in which the CBI have taken up this fake TRP issue is meant to end with a court order handing over the investigation to them, this is not something the Bombay High Court or the Supreme Court (if it comes to that) is obliged to do.
The subject area of the case – fraud and criminal breach of trust – is not something over which the CBI has exclusive jurisdiction (unlike, say offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act). The Mumbai Police have specific allegations and material to investigate which arise within its own territorial jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has previously refused pleas by Arnab Goswami to have FIRs against him for his Palghar lynching coverage transferred to the CBI on this basis.
Therefore, unless the courts were to find some sort of prejudice or problem with the Mumbai Police’s investigation, or the Mumbai Police end up getting into another spat with the CBI like they did with the Patna Police in the Sushant case, there should be no grounds for the CBI’s probe to supersede theirs.
Either way, we are likely to know more at the next hearing of the Bombay High Court on 5 November.
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