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HindustanTimes Thu,02 Oct 2014

Tata Group starts probe into ex-employee's death

Puja Changoiwala, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, July 02, 2013
First Published: 20:09 IST(2/7/2013) | Last Updated: 02:39 IST(3/7/2013)

Even as the Tata group initiated an inquiry into the death of Charudutta Deshpande, former chief of corporate communications at Tata Steel, who committed suicide at his Vasai home on June 28, on Tuesday, the police said they would investigate to determine if he had been harassed.

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On June 30, nine friends and ex-colleagues of Deshpande, formerly a journalist, had sent a letter to Tata group chairman Cyrus Mistry and chairman emeritus Ratan Tata alleging that the 57-year-old had been harassed by officials at Tata Steel, and had demanded an inquiry into his death.

“Several senior journalists and friends felt Charu had become a victim of machinations at Tata Steel. To press their point, they sent the letter along with prima facie evidence they had gathered,” said Gurbir Singh, president, Press Club, Mumbai.

The letter quoted Deshpande’s friends, a family member and ex-colleagues and others, whom he reportedly confided in. “He told them he was being threatened repeatedly by a mafia and that his cell phone was being tapped. He informed a friend that he was being bullied into signing some documents/bonds a day before he took his life,” the letter alleged.

“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,” it said.

The police said they would record the statements of Deshpande’s family to see if he had been harassed. “We will speak to them in a couple of days,” said Raju Nikumbh, investigating officer, Vasai police station, adding that post-mortem report has recorded the cause of death as asphyxia and that there were no signs of external injuries.

On Tuesday, Mistry responded saying the allegations would be looked into.

“We take these allegations with the utmost seriousness,” Mistry wrote.

“We have put in place appropriate mechanism to look into these and take necessary action. Let me assure you the Tata group does not and will not condone any action of the kind insinuated in your letter.”

Later in the day, a joint statement from Tata group and Tata Steel disclosed that a committee chaired by Ishaat Hussain, non-executive director of Tata Steel, and including Dr Mukund Rajan, chief ethics officer of Tata group, NS Rajan, chief human resources officer, Tata group, and Bharat Vasani, group general counsel, has been constituted to ascertain the facts.

“The committee has been mandated to convey its findings to the board of Tata Steel within two months,” it said.

“We deny action by the company concerned and/or its partners to sully the deceased’s name,” Rajan said.

No suicide note was recovered after Deshpande was found hanging from a ceiling fan, but the Vasai police said they would scan the iPad recovered from near his body for a suicide note. “We suspect Charu wrote something on the iPad before he took the drastic step,” said Deshpande’s friend.

Simon, Deshpande’s driver who found him hanging, said he did not seem tense or depressed. “I told him the car’s alignment needed to be fixed and he said he would deal with it the next day.”

After reaching Vasai, Deshpande locked his flat door while Simon waited outside. Around 3pm, Deshpande’s wife called Simon asking him to check on Deshpande as he was not answering his phone.

“He did not respond to the door bell so I broke a window pane and saw him hanging from the fan. I called a few neighbours who helped me break the door down, but it was too late,” Simon said.


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