Smriti Irani spots CCTV in Goa’s Fabindia trial room

Smriti Irani spots CCTV in Goa's Fabindia trial room

Union minister Smriti Irani spotted a camera in the trial room of an apparel store in Goa on Friday, sparking a debate over privacy concerns at such facilities in the tourism-dependent coastal villages in the state.

Irani, on a two-day visit to Goa, came across the camera when she was at a Fabindia showroom at Candolim village, 20km north of state capital Panaji, to buy clothes.

Superintendent of police (north) Umesh Gaonkar said four staff members of the showroom were arrested. They were identified as: Paresh Sadanad Bhagat (26), Raju Sanap Mallappa Payanachi (24), Prashant Dattaram Naik (20) and Karim Sanap Amil Lakhani (24). All of them are local residents, according to Calangute police station where an FIR was lodged.

Police also said that the top bosses of Fabindia, including their CEO and MD, will be questioned on Saturday.

Officials said Irani immediately alerted her husband, businessman Zubin Irani, after spotting the camera around 12.40pm. She then called BJP legislator Michael Lobo, who accompanied her to the police station. Lobo lodged the FIR on Irani’s behalf.

“When we went and switched the camera on, the entire video was recorded… This is mischief… Somebody has been watching the recordings,” the MLA said.

Calangute police found a CCTV camera installed in the ventilation unit of the room. “The camera was installed outside the changing room, but it seemed to have a view of the inside,” said police inspector Nilesh Rane.

“Following the complaint registered by Lobo, we arrested four persons of the Fabindia outlet who were present on duty,” he said, “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.”

Irani could not be contacted. Lobo, who represents Calangute in the state assembly, said the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-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.

Footage from the camera, which was installed four months ago according to the store’s staff, was being recorded in a computer in the manager’s office, 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,” Lobo added.

SP Gaonkar said, “Irani’s statement has been recorded as a victim, along with another woman who had entered the room earlier. Police have already sealed the shop.”

A case has been 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 either by the perpetrator or by any other person), 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code. Also, the Information Technology Act has been applied and the Section 66E, which prescribes punishment for the violation of privacy, has been used to book the accused.

Gaonkar said police had formed a special team to inspect all the showrooms in the coastal belt to ensure that there were no CCTV cameras installed in changing rooms. He added instructions will also be issued to all police stations to form teams and inspect the changing rooms in their respective areas.

Gaonkar said the case was transferred to the crime branch for investigation.

In Bangalore for the BJP’s national executive meet, Goa chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar 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 see 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,” Congress spokesperson Durgadas Kamat said.

National Commission for Women member Shamina Shafiq said, “It needs to be investigated where the previous videos have been sent.”

As a row broke out, Fabindia said all the company’s stores have security cameras but none in the fitting rooms. “They cannot see what is happening inside the trial room,” managing director William Bissel said. “The cameras are routinely placed in places where shoplifting can occur.”

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