Posts Tagged ‘Press Club of Bombay’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Photograph: via Facebook

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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?

Conflict of interest in ‘Indian Express’ awards?

13 January 2012

The Ramnath Goenka awards for excellence in journalism, instituted by The Indian Express, will be given out by the vice president of India, Hamid Ansari, on Monday, January 16. But the sponsorship of the awards has run into trouble, with a bunch activists and intellectuals raising questions of “conflict of interest”.

Below is their full press release.

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On January 10 and 11, 2012, half-page advertisements in the Indian Express (IE) newspaper (at least in Delhi edition) announced that the IE excellence in journalism awards would be given out on January 16, 2012 .

The advertisement also said that the main presenting sponsor is the Jaypee Group and among the four associate sponsors was Mahyco Monsanto.

One may recall that Indian Express has been on a campaign mode advocating big dams in general. It has been specifically campaigning against the movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan. In March and April 2006, the paper specifically ran a campaign against NBA and also against the then Union minister Prof Saifuddin Soz.

In October 2010 the paper ran a campaign for large hydro projects in the north east India when the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh held an open public hearing on these projects in Guwahati and than wrote to the Prime Minister, raising concerns about so many hydro projects being taken up in NE India and the impacts thereof.

Now it is well known that the Jaypee group is India’s largest dam building contractor, largest private sector developer and plans to develop many more including in the North East India, which was the subject of Indian Express campaign in October 2010. Jaypee group is also the contractor for the largest of Narmada Dam, namely Sardar Sarovar Project.

The group is planning to develop the 2700 MW lower Siang and 500 MW Hirong hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh, for example. It may also not be irrelevant to mention here that the Jaypee group has pathetic records in terms of social, environmental and human rights issues in the projects it is involved in.

More recently, in January 2012, India’s market regulator SEBI fined Jaypee group Rs 6 million for illegal practice of insider trading . All these facts are very much relevant for any business group to sponsor awards for excellence in journalism, particularly when the awards are also for “ethics in reporting”.

The Indian Express campaign in October 2010 willy-nilly helped the Jaypee groups’ interests. And now Jaypee is sponsoring the IE Journalism award. Shall we call this conflict of interest or quid pro quo?

Should a media house accept such sponsorship from a group that has directly benefited from the campaign that was run by the media house? And when the business group has such abysmal reputation?

Earlier in January-February 2010, when Jairam Ramesh held a series of public hearings to get a cross section of views on Bt Brinjal, Indian Express had launched a campaign  against Jairam Ramesh and for GM crops. It is clear that the campaign hugely benefited GM crop companies and the biggest among them in the world (Monsanto) has an Indian arm Mahyco Monsanto, which is the biggest GM seed company of India.

Mahyco Monsanto now is one of the sponsors of the Indian Express excellence in journalism awards.

So the same set of questions that arise about relation between Jaypee group and IE also arise for Mahyco Monsanto: Is this conflict of interest or quid pro quo? Is this not intellectual corruption? Should not the lobbyist media groups like Indian Express keep away from getting sponsorships from the organisations that their lobbying helps?

This is particularly true if media group wants to retain any credibility to the effect that it is still speaking in public interest, which we assume they should be.

We would like to clarify that we are not raising any doubts about the genuineness, independence and excellence of the jury or those journalists who may get this award.

Prashant Bhushan, senior Supreme Court lawyer, Delhi
E.A.S. Sarma, former secretary, govt of India, Andhra Pradesh
Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP, Delhi
Shripad Dharmadhikary, manthan adhyayan kendra, MP
Manshi Asher, him dhara, environment research and action collective, HP
Joy KJ, soppecom, Maharashtra
Dr Latha Anantha, river research centre, Kerala
Soumitra Ghosh, NESPON, West Bengal
Hemant Dhyani, Ganga ahvahan, Uttarakhand

This is not the first time media awards have run into trouble.

In November 2011, Mail Today reported that the chief justice of the Supreme Court of India, S.H. Kapadia, had declined to hand out the awards instituted by an unnamed media group.

Earlier last year, media awards instituted by the Press Club of Bombay ran into rough weather when one of the sponsors turned out to be the 2G scam afflicted company, DB Realty.

Hat tap: Mahesh Vijapurkar

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Also read: Ramanth Goenka: Courage of the 2 o’ clock kind

Prabhu Chawla: No one can destroy Ramnath Goenka‘s paper

How Arun Shourie became editor of The Indian Express

Press Club Bombay invites cricket, crime writers

7 January 2011

PRESS RELEASE: The Press Club of Bombay is inviting entries from Indian print and digital journalists for cricket writing and crime reporting in memory of two former members, K.N. Prabhu and Pradeep Shinde.

The K.N. Prabhu award for cricket writing and the Pradeep Shinde award for best crime story will both carry a cash prize of Rs one lakh. The winning article/story will be awarded prize money of Rs 75,000 and a citation. The next best entry will be awarded prize money of Rs 25,000 and a citation.

Each entrant is eligible to submit three stories published in newspapers, magazines and websites in calendar year 2010. Language submissions have to be accompanied by English translations. All entries have to be supported by a letter of recommendation from the editor/ department head.

Soft copies of entries can be e-mailed to manager@pressclubmumbai.com by 24 January 2011.

This should be followed by a hard copy along with a brief CV to: The Manager, The Press Club, Mumbai, Glass House, Azad Maidan, Mahapalika Marg, Bombay 400 001 by 29 January 2011. The envelope/cover with the article must be marked ‘Journalist Awards’.

Link via Shobha Sarada Viswanathan

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