The Mumbai Police on Thursday arrested former chief operating officer (COO) of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) Romil Ramgarhia in connection with the alleged ‘Fake TRP’ scam, after almost 4 months of his resignation from BARC.
According to the reports, the special investigation team (SIT) of the Mumbai Police Crime Branch arrested former BARC Chief Operating Officer Romil Ramgarhia on Thursday. A team headed by controversial Police officer Sachin Vaze reached Ramgarhia’s residence at Dosti Acres in Wadala on Thursday morning.
The SIT had initially brought Ramgarhia for questioning, however, he was taken into custody on Thursday noon by Vaze’s team.
The SIT later produced him in the metropolitan magistrate court and sought his custody for further interrogation. The prosecutors claimed that Romil Ramgarhia’s custody is necessary as it is essential for them to retrieve data from his laptop in connection with the ongoing investigation into the ‘Fake TRP’ scam.
According to the SIT, Ramgarhia was in contact with the director of Republic Media network and its CEO Vikas Khanchandani through WhatsApp and is “suspected to have passed on information to the channel”. It is, however, unclear what “information” they suspect the BARC COO passed on to Republic TV CEO.
The arrest of former BARC COO comes just days after Mumbai Police had continued its witch-hunt against Republic Media Network and had arrested CEO Vikas Khanchandani from his home in connection with the alleged ‘Fake TRP’ scam case.
Mumbai Police claims BARC COO leaked data to channels
The SIT also claimed before the court that Ramgarhia allegedly leaked confidential information aiding the accused in the case to fix TRPs for some channels. The SIT said that Romil Ramgarhia leaked this information during his tenure with BARC. Ramgarhia was rating agency BARC’s first COO and he remained in that position till his resignation in July 2020.
“While working with BARC, he guided and assisted some TV channels in manipulating TRPs. He was aware of the location of barometers across the country and we suspect that he shared this information too with some channels,” the officer added. The Police also stated that Ramgarhia’s mobile phone has been seized and will be sent to the forensic science laboratory for cyber analysis.
Advocate Mrunmay Kulkarni, representing the former BARC official, argued that custodial interrogation was not warranted as Ramgarhia had already resigned from the organisation months before the alleged scandal broke out and had nothing to do with the alleged ‘Fake TRP’ scam. The defence counsel also argued that Ramgarhia had a very specific role in rating agency BARC and was in no way involved in any illegal activities.
After hearing both sides, the court granted the SIT custody of Ramgarhia till December 19. Romil Ramgarhia is the fourteenth individual to have been arrested by the Mumbai Police in connection with the ‘Fake TRP’ scam, where channels including Fakt Marathi, India Today, Republic TV have been accused of bribing sample households to shoot up their TRPs.
It is rather interesting to note that while the COO resigned on July 31st 2020, it was on June 17th that Hansa Research Group employee Vishal Bhandari had informed to BARC Vigilance Team that he had received a call from one Vinay in November 2019. As per the complaint, Vinay had asked Bhandari to visit 5-panel homes, where bar-o-meters are installed, and convince them to watch India Today news channel for 2 hours every day. He had received ₹5000 to execute the task and was also paid ₹1000 to equally distribute among the 5-panel homes. Bhandari, who had executed the plan on the behest of Vinay, continued it unabated from November 2019 to May this year.
During the 7-month period, Bhandari would meet different people at the Malad railway station to receive his cash reward. During their internal investigation, BARC cross-verified the claims of Bhandari. Several panel homes have admitted to receiving monetary compensation in lieu of watching ‘certain channels’ and ‘influencing the viewership’.
Pertinently, Hansa Research, that has now alleged that they are being forced to implicate Republic TV by Sachin Vaze and others in Mumbai Police had not named Republic TV at all and had only named India Today in their report, based on which an FIR was filed.
Fake TRP scam
In October, Mumbai Police had made some sensational claims against some TV channels saying that they were manipulating TRP ratings. In a press conference, Mumbai Police commissioner Param Bir Singh had said that three TV channels, including Republic TV, were involved in manipulating viewership data of BARC by paying those households where Bar-o-meters, the devices that track TV viewership, are installed.
Param Bir Singh had specifically mentioned that Hansa Research had filed a complaint with the police. Hansa Group is an organisation that regulated the devices to record TRP for BARC. Interestingly, in this FIR that was filed by Hansa Research, Republic TV was not mentioned even once. The channel that was mentioned several times was India Today.
During the investigation, several evidence and witnesses came forward that alleged Mumbai Police have been intimidating them to speak against Republic TV, including Hansa officials. Hansa has also complained that they are being harassed by the Mumbai Police to give statements against Republic TV.