Panaji: All four employees of a Fabindia outlet near here, arrested and charged with voyeurism after Union Minister Smriti Irani said she spotted a hidden camera trained towards its trial room, were today granted bail by a local court which said police had made no ground for their custodial interrogation. After the initial embarrassment, Fabindia came out with a statement denying that it had placed hidden cameras in any of its stores, including the Candolim outlet which Irani visited yesterday.
In a related development, the store manager Chaitrali Sawanthas moved Goa Court for anticipatory bail. The manager, who is not traceable, filed the application through her lawyer. Judicial Magistrate Dwaja Patkar, before whom the accused were produced, granted them bail while rejecting the plea of Goa Police for their custody. The Judge, in her order, said “no grounds were made by Investigating Officer for custodial interrogation of the accused”. She also said the ground for their arrest has not been specified by the investigating agency. The accused – Paresh Bhagat, Raju Payanche, Prashant Naik and Karim Lakhani – were arrested hours after Irani raised an alarm after spotting the camera yesterday morning while buying clothes.
The arrests were made on the basis of a complaint filed by a Goa BJP legislator. They were booked under IPC Sections 354 C (voyeurism), 509 (intrusion into privacy) and also IT Act’s Section 66E (capturing, publishing image of private area of any person without his/her consent). In its statement on the incident, Fabindia said, “there were no hidden cameras anywhere in the store including the trial rooms” even as it expresses apologies to Irani “for the inconvenience that has been inadvertently caused (to her)”.
It held the camera in question at Candolim store was a part of the surveillance system and was installed in the shopping area. “There were no hidden cameras anywhere in the store including the trial rooms. These cameras are in full public view and the fact surveillance cameras are installed is prominently displayed in all the stores,” the statement said. During the arguments in court, defence lawyer Raju Poulekar contended that there was no reason for the police to hand over the case to Crime Branch, which usually probes underworld-related or sensitive cases.
Assistant Public Prosecutor Nita Marathe said the accused had “intentionally positioned the camera in such a manner that it recorded the women engaged in private act inside the trial room”.
Fabindia said it highly valued the dignity of women. “Fabindia is a women-centric organisation and 70 per cent of its workforce is women across the country and the globe.” During arguments in the court, the Investigating Officer said it has been revealed during initial probe that the captured images were viewed by the accused. “Custodial interrogation of the accused is required to know whether those images had been disseminated via e-mail, WhatsApp, Facebook or any other means of communication,” police told the court.
It said only the custodial interrogation of the accused will reveal the names of others involved in this episode and help in tracing victims. “The investigation is at preliminary stage and more evidence is required to be collected as this case involves innocent women whose modesty has been insulted,” police told the court.
Meanwhile, in yet another trial room snooping case, a worker of a Fabindia store in Kolhapur in Maharashtra has been arrested for allegedly filming a woman customer using his mobile phone, police said today. The incident took place on March 31 in the leading ethnic garment brand’s boutique in Tarabai Park area in Kolhapur in south Maharashtra.
The worker, Prakash Ananda Ispurle, was arrested on April 1 after the woman filed a police complaint, and was sent to judicial custody, police said. The woman was trying clothes when Ispurle placed his mobile phone in recording mode in the gap between the trial room door and the floor, police said.
When she noticed the phone, she raised an alarm. Ispurle quickly pulled out the mobile phone and hurriedly went to a corner of the store and deleted the recording, they said. During investigation, police spotted Ispurle in the CCTV footage filming the woman.