Goa chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar on Saturday ordered a high level probe after Union minister Smriti Irani discovered a CCTV camera pointed towards the trial room of a high-end apparel store.
Irani spotted the camera at the Fabindia store on Friday, sparking a debate over privacy concerns at such facilities in the tourism-dependent coastal villages of Goa. The minister, on a two-day visit to the state, had gone to the store at Candolim village, 20km north of state capital Panaji, to buy clothes.
After a BJP MLA filed a complaint on behalf of Irani at Calangute police station, police arrested four employees of the store on Friday and said the top bosses of Fabindia, including its CEO and MD, would be questioned.
The arrested men--Paresh Bhagat, Raju Payanachi, Prashant Naik and Karim Lakhani--were granted bail on Saturday by Judicial Magistrate Dwaja Patkar, who accepted their lawyer's contention that the CCTV camera was not installed with malafide intention.
The magistrate said in her order that "no grounds were made by the investigating officer for custodial interrogation of the accused". She further said the reason for their arrest had not been specified by the police.
The manager of the store, who was untraceable, approached the Goa Court through her lawyer for anticipatory bail.
Fabindia on Saturday apologised to Irani but said there were no hidden cameras installed anywhere in the store in Goa or in the trial rooms.
"At the outset, we would like to convey our apologies to the Honourable Minister Smriti Irani for the inconvenience that has been inadvertently caused," the company said in a statement issued in Mumbai.
"The camera in question at Condolim-Goa store was a part of the surveillance system at the store and was installed in the shopping area…These cameras are in full public view and the fact that surveillance cameras are installed is prominently displayed in all the stores," the statement said.
Fabindia said it had formed a three-member women's team to probe the incident. It said its staff and store manager were fully cooperating with police in the investigation.
The company further said it was a women-centric organisation with women comprising 70% of its workforce.
After Irani spotted the camera on Friday, she alerted her husband, businessman Zubin Irani, and called BJP legislator Michael Lobo, who accompanied her to the police station.
"When we went and switched the camera on, the entire video was recorded...This is mischief...Somebody has been watching the recordings," Lobo claimed.
Police found a CCTV camera installed in the ventilation unit of the trial room. "The camera was installed outside the changing room, but it seemed to have a view of the inside," said police inspector Nilesh Rane.
"We have seized the hard disk and CCTV footage and are scanning them. We are also trying to find out if they have kept any recording of the changing room," he said.
Irani could not be contacted. Lobo, who represents Calangute in the state assembly, said the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government was taking the matter seriously.
"The camera was placed in a mischievous place and there is footage of women changing clothes," Lobo said.
"It's a matter of concern that somebody's privacy is being invaded. Somebody wanted to see a woman naked: this is unacceptable. Other showrooms and malls should be investigated," he added.
Police said they had recorded Irani's statement as a victim and sealed the store. A case was registered under sections 354 C (whoever watches or captures the image of a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed by any person), 509 (act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code. They also applied the Information Technology Act.
Police formed a special team to inspect all showrooms in the coastal belt of Goa to ensure that there are no CCTV cameras in trial rooms. Instructions were issued to police stations to form teams to inspect changing rooms in their areas.
Goa chief minister Parsekar, who was in Bangalore for the BJP's national executive meet, said, "We will take stringent action. Thorough investigation will be done and the culprit will be taken to task."
The Congress alleged that the 'changing-room scandal' was Goa's best-kept secret, especially in coastal villages which attract a large number of tourists.
"Not just this boutique, all stores with such a facility must be investigated. A Union minister can at least alert the authorities, but most people cannot," said Congress spokesperson Durgadas Kamat.
National Commission for Women member Shamina Shafiq said, "It needs to be investigated where the previous videos have been sent."
However, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi said she "smells a rat to obfuscate" the media coverage of the national executive meeting. "Do I smell a rat to obfuscate the BJP national executive meeting. Attempts being made not to cover NE meeting instead cover some other inane issues," she tweeted.
(with agency inputs)