Read Order: Nancy Ghuman v. State of Punjab

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, May 24,2022: The Punjab and Haryana High Court has released Rabindra Narayan, the Managing Director of PTC Network on bail and granted the concession of anticipatory bail to four others, including two employees of the PTC Network and Nancy Ghuman (Director of Kohinoor Miss/Mrs. World Punjaban) and her former husband, in case of an FIR registered against them under Sections 341, 342, 343, 354, 354-A, 354- B, 354-C, 328, 420, 120-B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on the complaint of a contestant alleging that the accused were indulged in flesh trade and drug racket. 

The above-said relief was granted by the Bench of Justice Vivek Puri as the complainant’s case was not corroborated by the 23 other contestations of the show, coupled with the fact that the complainant was seen in the CCTV footage shots to be freely roaming around the hotel (negating her claim of wrongful confinement). 

In this case, Nancy Ghuman, Bhupinderjeet Singh, Lakshman Kumar and Niharika Sharma-petitioners, were seeking anticipatory bail and Rabindra Narayan-petitioner was seeking regular bail in the above-said FIR registered at Police Station PS Women, District SAS Nagar. 

Essentially, in this case, the complainant (a final year law student) participated in the Miss P.T.C. Punjaban contest (advertised on TV) in good faith. But soon she found herself in a conspiracy woven by Niharika, Nancy Ghuman and Bhupinder Singh-petitioners along with others who were indulged in the business of flesh trade with influential persons.

The contestants were influenced into getting clicked naked and were blackmailed into sleeping with directors and others. The complainant was locked in the Hotel room where they were stationed for the purpose of the competition. She was given intoxicants dissolved with water and her contact with the rest of the world was cut off. Such intoxicants were also given to other contestants so as to reduce their consciousness and raise their sexual desire. 

On finding an opportunity, the complainant contacted her father who filed a Habeas Corpus petition which rescued the complainant from the clutches of the accused. It came to the notice of the complainant later that the accused did not take any permission from the Broadcasting Ministry or from the Government and that under the garb of the contest, the accused were running the business of flesh trade and were indulged in drug trafficking. Hence, the present FIR was registered. 

The Counsel for Rabindra Narayan-petitioner submitted that the petitioner, a respected journalist, became the Managing Director of PTC Network with 80% of the market share, after having served as the business head of Zee Punjabi and Alpha ETC Punjabi and that he was arrayed as an accused in the present FIR on account of political motives to settle the scores with the shareholders of the said channel. 

Further, the Counsel added that the PTC Network was running the show by the name of Miss PTC Punjabi for more than a decade without any untoward incident happening. It was further argued that the claim of wrongful confinement is false and the complainant could easily be seen in the CCTV footage to be roaming around the hotel freely and that in fact, during her stay in the hotel, the petitioner went out to meet a lawyer and handed him some filed and as a result, she was reprimanded for meeting boys as the matter of her safety was the responsibility of the contest organizers. This also led to an altercation between the complainant and Niharika-petitioner (Assistant Director). 

It was also argued that the petitioner being Managing Director of PTC Network was in no way responsible for the day to day functions of each and every programme, for which a dedicated team of professionals was in charge. It was further submitted that the claims of the complainant were neither corroborated by the other contestants nor by their parents. 

The Counsel also added that Nancy Ghuman and Bhupinderjeet Singh-petitioners did not have any concern with the PTC channel. Furthermore, it was added that the petitioner was suffering from various ailments and even after his arrest, he was provided treatment in PGIMER, Chandigarh.

The Counsel further added that all the offences except Section 328 IPC were triable by the Court of Magistrate and that the petitioner had his office in Gurugram and never visited Chandigarh during the time when the incident took place. Also, it was added that the FIR was registered with an oblique motive to defame 23 contestants and the channel. 

From the call records of the complainant, the counsel contended that the complainant was making frequent calls, thus showing that she was not put under any sort of restrictions. 

The counsel for Niharika Sharma (Assistant Director) and Lakshman Kumar (Assistant Vice President Programming, PTC Network) contended that all the contestants were roaming free and no one was restrained by anyone at any point in time. 

Next, the counsel for Nancy Ghuman-petitioner argued that the petitioner, the Director of Kohinoor Miss/Mrs. World Punjaban- a talent hunting and beauty pageant show organized to promote new talent, has no concern with the other co-accused as she was neither an employee of PTC Network nor associated with it in any manner (as was also allegedly acknowledged by PTC Network). 

Also, the Counsel added that the petitioner was organizing talent shows and beauty pageants in the name of M/s Bandhan Event Planner for the last 15 years and was also running an NGO for the special children namely Rainbow Club since the year 2009 and she is not depicted in any photograph or video and even no recovery of incriminating articles was effected. Rather, the Counsel, hinting at a foul play added that in 2015, she made a complaint of rape against a person (later acquitted) who now has become an influential person. 

On behalf of Bhupinderjeet Singh, it was argued that he was falsely implicated for being an ex-husband of Nancy Ghuman.

It is to be noted that the contest (with 23 participants, after the complainant withdrew) continued even after the registration of the FIR. 

After considering these submissions, the Court observed that all the other contestants (23 in number) continued their participation in the event, and neither they nor their family members raised any grouse or pointed an accusing finger against the petitioners or organizers of the event. In fact, the Court noted that no allegations against the organizers of the show were levelled by such participants even when they were interrogated during the investigation. 

Further, the Court observed that contrary to what was mentioned in the FIR, the screenshots of CCTV footage indicated that the complainant was never put under any such restraint and was moving freely even outside the premises, where she was depicted to be talking to a person in an advocate dress and accompanied with another person. She was also depicted carrying her phone throughout. 

Also, from the report of the warrant officer, the Court noted that the complainant was kept in a room which was either locked or bolted, however, Justice Puri added that it was debatable whether any pressure was exerted upon the complainant to restrain her movements at the instance of the organizers of the event. 

The Bench also observed that the Trial Court has directed the procurement of call details and tower location records of the complainant, however, the same was not done. Further, on the question of the presence of the accused during the incident, the Court observed that Rabindra Narayan, Nancy Ghuman and Bhupinderjeet Singh were not depicted in the CCTV footage and Nancy Ghuman and Bhupinderjeet Singh were stated to be in no manner concerned with PTC channel and organizing the event. 

Also, the bench agreed with the submissions of the petitioner’s counsel to the effect that the offence pertaining to the sex racket, prostitution trade, drug and information technology were not added to the FIR and that all the offences except the offence under Section 328 IPC were triable by the Judicial Magistrate. 

Thus, in light of the above, it came to be observed by the Court that baring the bald assertion of the complainant, at this stage, there was nothing to indicate that the complainant or any other contestants were administered any stupefying, intoxicant or unwholesome drug with an intention to commit any offence. The controversy as to whether the offence under Section 328 IPC was made out or not will be a debatable and moot point. 

Nancy Ghuman, Bhupinderjeet Singh, Lakshman Kumar and Niharika Sharma, were granted anticipatory bail. The petition was allowed and Rabindra Narayan-petitioner was directed to be released on bail on furnishing bail bonds to the satisfaction of the learned Illaqa Magistrate/Duty Magistrate.

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