Tata Steel & the suicide of Charudatta Deshpande

2 July 2013

charu

The circumstances surrounding the alleged suicide of journalist-turned-corporate communications expert Charudatta Deshpande in Bombay last weekend, has exposed the dark underbelly of one of India’s biggest corporates, and the stress, pressure and threats that hacks face when silence is no longer a conscionable option.

Deshpande, 57, had resigned in April as chief of corporate affairs and communications at Tata Steel, having held that job for a little less than a year; he was due to join the PR firm Ad Factors on July 1. He had previously served as general manager, ICICI Bank, and prior to that as senior general manager of Mahindra & Mahindra.

As a journalist, Deshpande had worked at The Daily, The Indian Express, The Economic Times, Business India TV, and the Business and Political Observer.

***

A group of nine friends and colleagues of Charudatta Deshpande (including the president of the Press Club of Bombay) has written to Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry and his predecessor Ratan Tata, urging them to institute a proper inquiry into the death.

In their letter, written in their individual capacities, Charu’s friends claim:

# Charu was being bullied into signing some documents/ bonds on June 29, a day before he took his life.

# Charu was being blamed for “facilitating” a story (in picture, above) in Forbes India and was under enormous pressure to “admit” to his complicity in “leaking” confidential company documents to the media.

# Charu was was under “house arrest” in Jamshedpur and that his cell phones were being tapped.

# Charu was being called and threatened by an unnamed mafia.

***

In his individual capacity, ICICI executive director Ram Kumar, a well known figure in HR circles, has also written to the Tatas on the “disgraceful” manner in which Deshpande’s services had been terminated, and the “untold pressure and threat at Jamshedpur” in the weeks preceding his death.

The Economic Times reports:

“Ramkumar’s letter, referring to the claims of the people who met Deshpande in the four weeks preceding his death, alleges that he was “confined” for over two weeks at Jamshedpur.”

Amazingly, or perhaps not, nobody from the House of Tatas, who routinely clamber on to the high moral horse, called on Deshpande’s family for three days after the alleged suicide and Ramkumar has alleged in his letter that a PR firm tried to “sully” Deshpande’s name after the death.

On the other hand, ICICI Bank, where Deshpande had worked earlier, has facilitated a job for his son Gaurav, who graduates in two weeks’ time.

***

Below is the full text of the letter sent by nine friends of Charudatta Deshpande to Tata Sons chairman emeritus Ratan Tata and Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry, on 30 June 2013:

Dear Mr Tata and Mr Mistry,

We write to you as the collective conscience of a group of friends and former colleagues of Charudatta Deshpande, a former Tata Steel employee, who committed suicide on Friday, June 28, 2013.

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.

Charu was head of corporate communications at Tata Steel. About a month ago, he resigned from the company. The events leading to his exit are relevant and we would like to place them before you for your consideration.

In April, a few months into his new assignment, Forbes India magazine ran a cover story “Remoulding Tata Steel”. The story is online here on http://forbesindia.com/article/boardroom/putting-the-shine-back-into-tata-steel/35049/0.

It attempted to chronicle the challenges facing Tata Steel at a time when a crucial CEO succession drama was unfolding.

The story 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 those of us 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.

He added he was subsequently grounded for more than two weeks; that for all practical purposes was “under house arrest” in Jamshedpur; that his phones were being tapped; and that he was being subjected to enormous pressure to “admit” to his complicity in “leaking” confidential company documents to the media.

Many of us have worked in the past at various newsrooms including at the Economic Times where he was a senior editor. We have also known him professionally in his stints as head of corporate communications at organisations such as ICICI Bank, Mahindra & Mahindra and Tata Steel.

We remember him as a thorough professional who placed a premium on the interests of the organizations he worked for. Each one of us can personally vouch that in his interactions with us, he has never behaved irresponsibly or tried to damage the reputation of the firms he represented.

Those of us who were at Forbes India when the story on Tata Steel was being researched are willing to testify on any forum that matters he conducted himself with integrity and responsibility.

What we also know of the events that preceded his death are outlined below.

1. He was in discussions with officials at Adfactors PR, with whom he was negotiating employment prospects. He told them he was being called and threatened repeatedly by a ‘mafia’ – a term he used constantly; and that his cell phone was being tapped.

2. He had informed a friend that he was being bullied into signing some documents/bonds on June 29, a day before he took his life.

3. Immediately after the story appeared, he was in constant touch over the phone with Indrajit Gupta, the founding editor of Forbes India. He confided in Indrajit Gupta and spoke of being confined for over two weeks at Jamshedpur, being harassed after the story appeared in the magazine, was not allowed to travel without permission, and articulated his concerns about his cell phone being tapped. Despite being advised to escalate the matter to higher authorities, including the Tata Headquarters at Bombay House, Charu insisted it would be futile and make things worse for him.

Whatever be the circumstances behind his exit, most of us assumed he would put the setback behind him and move on. However, he alleged the threatening phone calls he got even after exiting he company was causing him a lot of stress.

What transpired after Charu 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 Charu’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.

We believe 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 Charu’s family have revealed he had no personal problems or disputes there. His brother-in-law Mahesh said Charu was extremely disturbed and depressed in the month before he finally quit Tata Steel. Mahesh also spoke of Charu confiding in the family he made a serious mistake in joining Tata Steel.

These apart, he 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.

The Tata group has nurtured a long tradition of practising and upholding the highest standards of ethics and probity in public life. Nothing that we now do can redeem what has happened. But for the sake of justice, we would urge you to institute an inquiry into this matter.

If nothing, it will help bring closure to a traumatic episode for Charu’s family and his circle of friends. Equally importantly, an inquiry of this kind will go a long way to ensure episodes of this kind don’t occur again.

The all of us who have signed on this note would be willing to aid any inquiry process you choose to institute by providing evidence and witnesses with whom Charu had spoken to before his demise.

We trust the both of you will do what is right.

In anticipation,

On behalf of

Indrajit Gupta, Gurbir Singh, Charles Assisi, Prince Mathews Thomas, Dinesh Krishnan, Cuckoo Paul, T. Surendar, Debojyoti Chatterjee, Dinesh Narayanan

***

Photograph: via Facebook

***

Also read: Have the Tatas blacklisted Times of India again?

Why Ratan Tata hired Niira Radia‘s services

What Niira Radia told PAC on Barkha Dutt chat

Four lessons in journalism from the Tatas’ chief PRO

Tamil journalist’s house raided in 2G spectrum scam

Nakkheeran journo denies wife worked for Radia firm

2G scam bribe was diverted to Tamil TV channel

Has media credibility suffered a body blow in 2G scam?

The journalist who offered a Rs 2 crore bribe?

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34 Responses to “Tata Steel & the suicide of Charudatta Deshpande”


  1. WoW! Pressure is this profession goes right to the top and across boundaries and barriers! I would be really disappointed with the Tatas if they do not honourably resond to this letter by these reputed professionals.

  2. Mahesh Vijapurkar Says:

    Now it is hard to rate the Tatas as business group high on ethics if this happens to its senior executive.


  3. What next, “damage control” and PR speak?

    Hats off to these journalists who put their names and reputations on line.

  4. Rahul Laud Says:

    This letter makes me proud of all my friends who have written to Tatas. Journalism with conscience does exist in India .Such letters help us rebuild faith in journalists. Media should not be buckled under Tata’s PR strategy and tactics. This story should be followed up for sake of justice and to avoid similar situations in future. Rahul Laud


  5. I am not surprised that the organisation drove the gentleman to his grave.As Chief OF Pr and DGM at HMT, I was also traumatized and witch hunted for frivolous reasons and dismissed on false grounds.I took them to HC and cleared my name but they went on appeal again on false grounds and I lost the battle for after all I was an individual fighting against a behemoth organisation.

  6. Shoma Bose Roy Says:

    I am shocked to hear of Charudatta Deshpande committed suicide. He was a good pol journalist in the ET. He must get justice

  7. rajan Says:

    Ratan Tata’s legacy.. the great House of Tatas reduced to a sleazy business shop

  8. Sapna Says:

    I second austereseeker here. Kudos to the people who put in their names at the end of the letter!

  9. s Says:

    Lets wait and c how seriously tatas take this up.

  10. Simpleton Says:

    Have seen corporate and personal ethics degenerate in the once-revered Tata Group, during my almost two decade association with them. Wish they had an uncompromising leader like JRD. In Ratan Tata’s tenure corporate governance and ethics has been all-time low within the Group (various scams within the group, and the infamous Niira Radia scandal are testimony to this). Cyrus Mistry will find this the most challenging of his priorities as Chairman of Tata Sons – to return the Tata Group to its former glory, particularly of JRD’s time.


  11. Charu was a thorough professional and would not, as alleged, anything that his concious would not permit. RIP.

  12. Misha Says:

    Shocking news, Charu was a brilliant person, who inspired us. And to know such a reputed company did this to their head of Corp Comm.

  13. Chaula jhaveri Says:

    Knowing him for past eight years as a member of the society in which he lived, I can vouch for his ethics, honesty and love for family and fellow beings. He was a very positive person and respected life .

  14. Deepankar Bhttacharjee Says:

    They should find out what was going behind the curtain.It is obvious something has definitely happened to drive Mr.Charu Dutt to take his life ultimately.

  15. Melanie Says:

    I grew up in a Tata township but realise now that the Tatas of today are not the Tatas of yore. As an earlier poster has mentioned, I think the downfall started with the advent of RT!

  16. David James Says:

    It is sad that the Tatas have not lived up to their reputation.
    It is not too late to rectify things. Only TRUTH & TRUTH alone should prevail & they owe it to themselves, Charu, & all of us who had reposed faith in them.


  17. I am shocked to know this. I m surprised that such thing can happen in Tata Group company who claim morality as their supreme virtue.

    People are hoping that his soul may rest in peace. I wonder How it can rest in peace, after undergoing so much torture and trauma?

    This is the most unfortunate news for me in the recent times.

    ***

    Today I am ashamed of being a shareholder of Tata companies.

  18. Arundhati Seigell Says:

    Unbelievable that something like this can happen to a v senior and respectable professional. This is a v unfortunate happening and must be investigated with utter seriousness to reinforce our belief in justice and to avoid similar situations in future. RIP Charudatta

  19. Maya Says:

    I lost a friend, a mentor and a possible colleague (every time I met him we ended with a thought that we may work together someday), which is not possible anymore. Like the senior journalists who wrote to Tatas asking for justice, I am among many others who are distraught and demand a impartial investigation to check why Charu was threatened and what let to him to this unfortunate end.

    • MAHUA GHOSE Says:

      I have had the good fortune to work with Charu in Mahindra & Mahindra and always admired him for his sincerity and his professionalism
      He was equally respected in ICICI
      I am glad that his journalist friends have taken up cudgel against the House of Tata. What Charu was subjected to by the Tatas, cannot be brushed under the carpet

  20. Uday Puthli Says:

    As a former Tata employee, I really do not know how to react. About two decades ago I would have felt a sense of shock after reading this. But during that period, I have seen similar things happening (even at levels in the hierarchy one would least expect to wield any influence) that I can believe almost anything about a business house that I still hold in esteem. Isn’t is time that the top brass at the House of Tatas did some introspection to know whether they still follow the glorious tradition set by Jamsetji Tata and JRD? I believe that it is long overdue.

  21. Sandy Berger Says:

    Most people here are indicating a degeneration of values in the Tata Group in the last two decades, RT has been friends with people like Sivasankaran. Some of the existing Group company CEOs too are perceived to have very poor ethics by the public.

    Will Cyrus purge these people and restore the Group values and ethics ?

  22. praveen Says:

    All those, almost all, who held tatas in high esteem feel compelled to revise their views and bring tatas down to others level. If this could happen to a senior professional what could be in store for lesser ones who fall in the assessment of powers that be. Tatas are held as no 1 company by a long distance compared to others,financial figures notwithstanding. This was because they represented moral and ethical values, others know little about. Do they still hold such values. I am sure Tatas will carry out truthful enquiry and come clean

  23. Babu Das Says:

    I am shocked to learn the death of Charu. Waiting with all friends of Charu to hear from Tatas on what they have got to say.

    Babu Das

  24. M R Says:

    This quiet man Charu was not a suicide type…what drove him must be found out

  25. Shishir Says:

    Charu soul may rest in peace and May god give strength to his family at this point of time in their life.

    I have a serious doubt on the Positive True & Clean outcome of this case. The Culprits has to be brought infront of the nation and shall be granted highest punishment.

    I am sure, cases like this are common in today’s corporate world. Need a strong, committed policy / guidelines from Government to tackel such cases and moniter the CORPORATE WORLD.

    Today its a mess.

    Regards

    • Siddharth Says:

      What makes all of us think that all this was not being done at behest of Bombay House? We must stop being in thrall of these moneyed creeps and start demanding some accountability from these bloated heads

  26. Raja Raghuraman Says:

    Can someone give me the email id of Mr. Mistry?
    He has to clean the augean stable.
    Let me be very specific: Partho Sengupta and his cronies like the sala-jija duo of Sanjay Pattnaik and Mohit Das must go.
    Otherwise Tata Steel is doomed.
    In fact, very little option before Misry except to come down hard on the crooks on Tata Steel before it is too late.

  27. Tejgouri Says:

    Sad era in India – Reputed organisations turning to Thugs

    Are we talking about the TATAs here!?

    Words like MAFIA, HOUSE ARREST, PHONE TAPPING uttered by Charudatta to his close friends can hardly indicate the workings of an organisation respected by Indians. However, having a brief interaction with Charu his sensitivity, integrity and honesty and calm demeanour were quickly visible, one can be sure that these were not loosely thrown terms at a road side brawl.

    “It was no use escalating the matter” and “signing a bond” even after resigning also show that his troubles were far from over and leaving him nowhere to go…what/who drove him to take this drastic step must be investigated and The TATAs cannot be ostriches by burying their head in the sand…

    Better they employ a PR person – if they can find one to take the job!

  28. Abhishek Says:

    Mr. Deshpande was an excellent human being, the reason I can say this is because I was involved in his recruitment . RIP Charu Sir.

    • r k dharan Says:

      i think after this tragic incident various professionals of corporate communication or PR as we would like to call it will think twice before joining corporate houses.
      at the outset the top boss of the corporate house should understand what is corporate communication and all its positive and negative.
      just sitting at the helm of affairs does guarantee u to be the best CEO unless u stand with your second line of leaders and find out what went wrong and where to clear the air.


  29. […] At the time of his death Charudatta was not an employee of any organisation. If his previous organisation had harassed him the best […]

  30. austere Says:

    Is there an update?


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