The shocking incident of suicide of former Tata Steel's head of corporate communications has prompted journalists to send a letter to Ratan Tata, chairman Emeritus of Tata Group and Cyrus Mistry, chairman of Tata Group demanding an inquiry into allegations of harassment that possibly led to Deshpande taking his life last Friday.
“From whatever evidence we have gathered until now on the back of conversations with Charudatta in the weeks leading to his demise, and with those who knew him closely, Charu was placed under enormous stress and subjected to harassment by officials at Tata Steel. Our understanding is it was this harassment that prompted him to commit suicide. This letter is an attempt to bring this episode to your attention and seek your intervention into instituting an urgent and independent inquiry into the matter,” said the letter sent to Tata and Mistry by the collective group of friends and former colleagues of Deshpande.
The letter states that in April, a few months into his new assignment, Forbes India magazine ran a cover story “Remoulding Tata Steel”. It attempted to chronicle the challenges facing Tata Steel at a time when a crucial CEO succession drama was unfolding.
The story, journalists claim, was based on extensive and independent reporting that lasted more than five months. Soon after it appeared in print though, a distraught Charu got in touch with some journalists at Forbes India and alleged officials at Tata Steel were placing the blame on him for “facilitating” a story they thought inimical to their interests.
Deshpande added he was subsequently grounded for more than two weeks; that for all practical purposes was “under house arrest” in Jamshedpur. His phones were being tapped and he was being subjected to enormous pressure to “admit” to his complicity in “leaking” confidential company documents to the media.
Events preceding Charu's suicide: The 'Mafia' angle
The events that preceded his death includes discussions with officials at Adfactors PR, with whom he was negotiating employment prospects. According to Deshpande, he was being called and threatened repeatedly by a 'mafia' - a term he used constantly; and that his cell phone was being tapped.
Deshpande had also informed a friend that he was being bullied into signing some documents/bonds on June 29, a day before he took his life.
Despite being advised to escalate the matter to higher authorities, including the Tata Headquarters at Bombay House, Deshpande had insisted it would be futile and make things worse for him, the letter said.
As per the letter what transpired after Deshpande passed away was even more despicable. Even as the news of his demise trickled in on Friday evening, there were concerted attempts made by Tata Steel officials and the PR agency to pass off his death as a heart attack, and not a suicide. A senior PR official even insisted that he had visited Deshpande’s residence and confirmed the news of the heart attack, which turned out to be untrue. Some regional papers even hinted he had embezzled funds.
According to the letter, this is an attempt to tarnish the reputation of a senior professional and take the focus away from the root cause behind his untimely death.
Discussions with Deshpande's family have revealed he had no personal problems or disputes there. His brother-in-law, Mahesh said Deshpande was extremely disturbed and depressed in the month before he finally quit Tata Steel. Mahesh also spoke of Deshpande confiding in the family that he made a serious mistake in joining Tata Steel. Deshpande also spoke of having been let down by the company on various counts and not being provided manpower and resources he was promised when he joined.
Infact, this is not the only letter written by Deshpande’s friends. A couple of days back, K Ramkumar, an Executive Director of ICICI Bank had written a similar letter to Tata bigwigs seeking a independent probe and alleged that Deshpande was being harassed by Tata steel officials.
Reacting to the letter, Tata Group Chief Ethics officer, Mukund Rajan said,”We take the allegations raised in the letter very seriously and we will establish an appropriate process to ascertain the facts and take action accordingly. No Tata company would condone or authorise any action or behaviour as suggested in the same.
Charudatta Deshpande was a loved and respected former colleague. We are shocked and distressed by his passing away. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”