In an important development in the TRP manipulation case, the Karnataka High Court today slammed the Mumbai Police for rushing to Bengaluru to question Republic COO Priya Mukherjee. The court made critical statements for Mumbai police while delivering the verdict on Mukherjee’s petition seeking protection from arrest, and granted her 20 days of transit bail. The court also noted that neither Mukherjee nor Republic TV was named in the complaint filed in the TRP manipulation case.
The High Court said Mumbai police failed to explain they had rushed to Bengaluru when Priya Mukherjee had already appeared for questioning in Mumbai earlier, and she had visited Bengaluru for a few days after informing Mumbai police. The court accepted that the petitioner’s argument that there is reasonable apprehension that the Mumbai Police may arrest her, and hence granted her transit bail while directing her to approach an appropriate court for regular anticipatory bail.
The High Court also ordered that in case she is arrested during this period, she will be released on a bond of Rs 2 lakh and two sureties.
The plea was filed by Republic COO Priya Mukherjee after Mumbai police chased her to Bengaluru to question her, saying that she apprehends that she might be arrested. Mukherjee was issued summons by Mumbai police on November 17 and 18, and her statements were taken from 11.30 am to 5.30 pm in Mumbai. On 19th November, she wrote a letter to Mumbai police informing that she was going to Bengaluru as her father was ill, and informed that she will return in a few days and join the investigation.
On 20th November, she went to Bengaluru and sent another letter to Mumbai police informing that she will return to Mumbai by November 24, and will be available for questioning from that date. But on the same day, i.e., November 20, a team of Mumbai police arrived at Bengaluru, and issued her two notices. In the second notice, she was asked to appear for questioning at the Bannerghatta police station on 21st November. Following this development, she filed the plea with the Karnataka High Court seeking relief from arrest by Mumbai police.
Mumbai police opposed the plea in the court, saying that the petitioner was ‘shopping at different courts’. The police alleged that Priya Mukherjee approached Karnataka High Court after she was denied relief by Mumbai High Court. However, the counsel of the Republic COO rejected this claim, saying it was Arnab Goswami who had filed the plea at Mumbai High Court, and she didn’t file any plea there.
The main contention of Mumbai police was that the petition was not maintainable, and there was no apprehension of arrest. But the High Court rejected the claim, and noted that courts can consider an application made under section 438.
Noting the circumstances of the case, the High Court said, ‘there is no dispute on the fact that in the complaint, there is no mention of the Petitioner as well as the Company,’ referring to the complaint filed by Hansa Research in the TRP case which had named India Today, not Republic TV as alleged by Mumbai Police.
The court also noted that Priya Mukherjee had appeared for questioning in Mumbai as per police summons, and left for Bengaluru after informing Mumbai police. The court said that when Mumbai police was asked why they needed to rush to Bengaluru to question her after she sought a short time to visit her father, they had no answer. The High Court further added that the Mumbai Police could not explain why she was summoned to a police station in Bengaluru.
The court also noted that the notice issued to Priya Mukherjee asking her to appear at the Bannerghatta police station didn’t state the reason for the same.
Rejecting the contention of Mumbai police, the court said that when personal liberty of a person is under threat the petition can seek relief from courts. The bench of Justice H P Sandesh said that Mumbai Police was misusing the SC judgement in Arnesh Kumar v State of Bihar case, and the court will have to come to the rescue of citizens on such cases.
“Police are not applying their mind whether a cognizable offence is made out or not. Police should satisfy the Court on why they are arresting a person”, the court said.