#India -Tata Steel & the suicide of Charudatta Deshpande #CSR


2 July 2013, Sans Serif 

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 theBusiness 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 week’s 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 onhttp://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 KrishnanCuckoo Paul,T. SurendarDebojyoti ChatterjeeDinesh Narayanan

 

 

#India – Why is #Aadhaar being shoved down our throats? #UID


 

Why is Aadhaar being shoved down our throats?

 

At Tembhli village in Nandurbar district, a day before the launch of the UID in 2010.The village received the first numbers under the project.

At Tembhli village in Nandurbar district, a day before the launch of the UID in 2010.The village received the first numbers under the project.

by  Apr 15, 2013

 

Electoral logic is driving the UPA towards a patent illegality: forcing people to part with sensitive private information such as biometric data or finger-prints without having any law to protect privacy in place.

As things stand, getting yourself an Aadhaar card issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is voluntary; you are not legally bound to part with this information to anyone, leave alone the UIDAI. A report in The Times of India today also flags off privacy concerns and emphasises that citizens are essentially being “coerced” to get themselves an Aadhaar number.

Is Aadhaar effective? Image courtesy UIDAI

Is Aadhaar effective? Image courtesy UIDAI

 

At last count, nearly 320 million Indian residents have been enrolled under Aadhaar – and all of it despite a warning from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance which wanted the scheme shut down.

Driven by its own electoral compulsions, the Centre is pushing states to make Aadhaar the norm for every kind of entitlement so that it can proceed with its direct cash transfers (DCT) scheme before the next elections. Aadhaar is supposed to provide foolproof identification of subsidy beneficiaries and weed out duplications and bogus entries.

The UPA thinks DCT is a vote-winner and a game-changer. This is why late last year the Congress announced that scheme would cover the whole country by the end of 2013 after starting out with only a few schemes in 51 districts.

To convert Aadhaar into a voter ATM scheme, you need to roll it out really fast, since elections could happen either later this year or in April-May next year. To make sure that cash is given out to people using Aadhaar, you need bank accounts to be linked to this ID number, and also marry it with data from the ministries advocating these schemes.

Finance Minister P Chidambaram has already announced that cooking gas (LPG) subsidy is next on the list for coverage under Aadhaar and direct cash transfers, but the linkage to bank accounts is taking time. Banks, in fact, are not chary of depending too much on Aadhaar, and The Economic Times today reports that if money is transferred on the basis of this identification, anything going wrong should be the UIDAI’s responsibility.

Why this tearing hurry?

Cooking gas subsidy is a big ticket DCT initiative because of the amounts involved: subsidies amount to Rs 430-440 per cylinder at current international crude prices. Since each family is entitled to nine subsidised cylinders a year, a shift to DCT would mean putting nearly Rs 4,000 into the bank accounts of beneficiaries annually.

While the political advantages of giving money to voters in the name of economic efficiency is understandable, the UPA has completely lost sight of one simple thing: there is currently no legislation in place to make the Aadhaar scheme’s collection of private biometric data legal; even though the scheme is being promoted through administrative fiat, the fact that so much personal data will be obtained using private agents is giving privacy advocates sleepless nights.

In fact, there is a good reason to stop Aadhaar in its tracks—it is already supposed to have covered 320 million residents—before the project is put on a legal footing. Reason: there is simply no protection if your biometric data falls in the wrong hands and your ID has been commandeered by someone else.

A public interest litigation in the Supreme Court has challenged the constitutional validity of the UIDAI headed by former Infosys scion Nandan Nilekani. As Firstpost reported earlier, the petition alleges that “There is no regulatory mechanism to ensure that the data collected is not tampered with or remains secure. When there is no legislation, there is no offence in parting with this information. And when there is no offence, there can be security issues.”

Ankit Goel, one of the lawyers for the PIL, has gone on record to say that “the state is asking for biometrics of an individual. The mere asking of biometric data is encroaching into someone’s privacy. It is tantamount to phone tapping. Whereas in phone tapping there is legislation, there is no legislation here… In the absence of a law passed by Parliament there can’t be any collection of private information. This is against the law laid down by the Supreme Court.”

The parliamentary standing committee on finance headed by Yashwant Sinha, which looked at the National Identification Authority Bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha, also came to the same conclusion: “Despite the presence of serious differences of opinion within the government on the UID scheme…the scheme continues to be implemented in an overbearing manner without regard to legalities and other social consequences.”

The committee rejected the bill, and Mint last December quoted Gurudas Dasgupta, MP, as saying that there was no need for it: “We found that the project is not necessary as there are many other ways of identification such as BPL (below the poverty line) card, voter identification card, etc. There is no merit in the project, it is just a wastage of government money.”

The point is this: isn’t it downright irresponsible for the UPA government to ask citizens to share vital personal information when there is such little political support for it and when there is no guarantee of how the information will be protected?

 

 

An open letter to the jury of The ET Awards for Global Excellence #Vedanta


This open letter has been put out by G. ANANTHAPADMANABHAN of Amnesty International (India)

Dear Mr Deepak Parekh, Mr Kumara Mangalam Birla, Mr K V Kamath, Mr Kris Gopalakrishnan, Mr A M Naik, Ms Chanda Kocchar and Mr Cyril Shroff,

We at Amnesty International India are deeply disappointed by your decision to give the Economic Times Business Leader of the Year 2012 award to Mr Anil Agarwal, Chairman of Vedanta plc.

The Business Leader award is given to individuals who have demonstrated “a strategic direction for success, and pursued a vision”. But Vedanta, in its efforts to have a bauxite mine opened at the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa and expand an aluminium refinery near Lanjigarh, has demonstrated an utter lack of both leadership and vision. What it has shown instead is a brazen disregard for Indian law and an utter lack of respect for the rights of local communities.

In August 2010, the Ministry of Environment and Forests rejected the Niyamgiri bauxite mine project after finding that it extensively violated forest and environmental laws and would abuse the rights of local communities, including the Dongria Kondh adivasi community. The Ministry also suspended the clearance for the expansion of Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery after an expert committee found it to be illegal. The Economic Times has itself gone on record to oppose the Niyamgiri bauxite mining plan.

Vedanta has since developed a human rights and sustainability policy framework which it claims is aligned to international standards and best practices. The ET awards jury has said that the perception of misgovernance in Mr Agarwal’s companies is worse than the reality. But new research by Amnesty International reveals that Vedanta’s violations are extreme and ongoing. A vast gap exists between Vedanta’s stated policy framework and its practices in Orissa.

Vedanta continues to ignore the views of the Dongria Kondh. Its claim that it has consulted local communities is not supported by evidence gathered by Amnesty International, including testimonies from the Dongria Kondh and the minutes of official meetings. Nor are these claims supported by the findings of two official expert panels appointed by the MoEF in 2010.

Vedanta’s claims that its processes and planning are in line with Indian laws are belied by testimonies from communities affected by the Lanjigarh refinery on the impact of pollution on their health and water sources, the acquisition of their farmlands without adequate compensation, and the loss of their livelihoods due to pollution and reduced access to common land.

Amnesty International has uncovered Vedanta’s failure to adequately address risks posed by the Lanjigarh refinery’s red mud ponds, and to disclose relevant information on the impact of actual pollution. This is compounded by the company’s failure to take appropriate remedial action.

An ongoing inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission has found that the local police were involved in framing false charges and suppressing dissent against those critical of Vedanta. The NHRC inquiry says that the police booked the project-affected villagers in false or exaggerated cases on several occasions, apparently at the behest of Vedanta.

All these facts call into question Vedanta’s stated commitment to address human rights concerns. Mr Agarwal has told the Economic Times: “We have to use our resources in a sustainable manner for our development.” But Vedanta has shown consistently that it is unwilling to do so.

Several supporters of Vedanta have revised their opinions after being alerted to its environmental and human rights abuses.

Since 2007, several institutional investors in Vedanta, including the Norwegian Pension Fund and the Church of England Pensions Board, have sold their stakes after expressing concern about the adverse impacts of the company’s work in Orissa.

Earlier this year, the UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the British Safety Council suspended their awards to Vedanta after reports emerged of safety standards violations at the Lanjigarh refinery. Four months ago, the Oslo-based Business for Peace Foundation withdrew an award it was slated to give Mr Agarwal for ‘ethical business practices’ after it was informed about the details of Vedanta’s violations and human rights abuses.

We urge you to reconsider your decision to give the ET Business Leader of the Year award to Mr Anil Agarwal. To felicitate Vedanta through this award is to reward a history of human rights abuses, to ignore local communities’ campaigns for justice for rights abuses, and to betray the goals of the ET Corporate Excellence awards.

Yours sincerely,

G. Ananthapadmanabhan

Chief Executive, Amnesty International (India)