Early on Friday morning, a team of Chhattisgarh police arrested former BBC journalist Vinod Verma, a member of the Editors Guild of India, from his home in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh. The police alleged that Verma had made video CDs with sexually explicit content that he was using for the purpose of extortion. The police claim to have recovered 500 copies of the CD, a laptop and a pen drive, from Verma’s home.
But Verma denied the allegation and said he had been framed. “I just have a pen drive, nothing else, nothing to do with CD,” he told reporters, while being taken to the Ghaziabad District court on Friday afternoon. Verma’s counsel, Rakesh Tyagi Kaile, said the CDs had been planted at the journalist’s residence by the police. Kaile refused to comment on the contents of the pen drive, but Verma told reporters that it had a video clip featuring Rajesh Munat, Chhattisgarh’s minister for public works department, housing, environment and transport. “That is why Chhattisgarh government is not happy with me,” he added.
The state is run by a Bharatiya Janata Party government.
The police registered a case against Verma under charges of extortion, criminal intimidation, hatching a criminal conspiracy and publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit content in electronic form. The Ghaziabad court gave the police transit remand to take Verma to Chhattisgarh. He has to be produced at a court in Raipur, the state capital, by October 30.
Citing the judgment of State of NCT of Delhi and Ors vs Mahesh and Others passed by the Delhi High Court earlier this year, Bidit Deka, a Delhi-based lawyer, explained that circulation or publication or transmission of the obscene content is the crux of the sections 67 and 67-A of the Information Technology Act. Mere possession of an obscene content is not enough to attract the said sections.
In 2016, Verma had travelled to Chhattisgarh as part of a fact-finding team of the Editors Guild of India to investigate the arrests and threats faced by journalists in the state. On Saturday, the Press Club of India is holding a meeting to discuss “the issues arising out of Mr Vinod Verma’s arrest in a most high-handed manner by Chhattisgarh police”.
At a press conference in Raipur, Pradeep Gupta, inspector general of police, said the first information report in the case was registered on Thursday afternoon at the Pandri police station in the city. The complainant Prakash Bajaj told the police that he had been receiving calls on his landline for two days from an unidentified person who threatened to expose his aaka, or master. In one of the calls, the unidentified caller even disclosed the address of a shop in Delhi where he claimed he was making copies of CDs with a sexually explicit video.
Gupta said the police acted promptly since the material could damage the reputation of the victim. He did not identify the victim and claimed not to have any details about the background of the complainant. A report in the Hindustan Times said Bajaj is a working committee member of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Chhattisgarh.
Gupta said the information was first passed onto a team of Chhattisgarh police officials that was already in Delhi to track down a gang of chain-snatchers. Another team of police officials of the state’s crime branch also travelled to Delhi on Thursday night. They first tracked down the shop whose address had been revealed by the unidentified caller, Gupta said. The shopkeeper disclosed the phone number of the client who had asked him to make 1,000 CDs. “The client turned out to be Vinod Verma,” Gupta said.
Chhattisgarh police then roped in their counterparts in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh and in the early hours of Friday, they conducted a raid at Verma’s residence, from where they claimed to have recovered 500 copies of the sex CD in a carton, a laptop, a pen drive and some cash. The police, however, refused to disclose the content of the recovered CDs. They also did not identify the shopkeeper. “The shopkeeper is still being questioned and his intent is being probed,” Gupta said. “Whether he is arrested or not, it shall depend on that.”
It isn’t clear whether Verma himself called up Bajaj. When asked about this, Gupta told reporters that the call was made on the landline and there was sufficient evidence to prove Verma’s involvement.
A report in the Hindustan Times quoted Verma as saying that he had received the 1 minute and 31 seconds-long video clip in a pen drive on October 24, and that he had saved it in his laptop.
Kaile, Verma’s counsel, emphasised that the police’s claims of seizing CDs from Verma’s residence were false. “Some people in Raipur have copies of a minister’s CDs,” he said. “Mr Verma has got nothing to do with the CDs.”