Tata Steel’s Corporate Communication Head Prabhat Sharma Booked in Charudatta suicide case

The police in Vasai lodged an FIR against a Tata Steel official on Monday for abetment to suicide, nearly five months after Charudutta Deshpande, a former chief of corporate communications at the company, ended his life. The police said arrests, if any, will be made only after evidence is collected. The FIR was filed against Prabhat Sharma, head of corporate affairs at the company’s Jamshedpur unit, based on a complaint filed by Indrajit Gupta, former editor of Forbes India, a business magazine. Deshpande was posted in Jamshedpur.

FIR filed against Tata Steel official for abetting Charu Deshpande’s suicide

CharuThe first information report was lodged against Prabhat Sharma, deputy head of corporate affairs at Tata Steel, Jamshedpur, on the basis of a 12-page complaint submitted by Indrajit Gupta, former editor of Forbes India

MUMBAI: The Vasai Road police on Monday finally registered a case of abetment to suicide for the death of Charudatta Deshpande (57), former corporate affairs and communication chief of Tata Steel. The complaint has been filed against Prabhat Sharma, deputy head of corporate communications and corporate affairs, Tata Steel, Jamshedpur.

It took the police 143 days to unravel the circumstances that compelled Charu to hang himself at his Vasai Gaon flat on June 28, 2013

It took the police 143 days to unravel the circumstances that compelled Charu to hang himself at his Vasai Gaon flat on June 28, 2013. The police have lodged the case under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, acting on a complaint registered by Indrajit Gupta, former editor of Forbes India, which published an article on Tata Steel in its April 2013 edition.

The police, who had initially registered the case as accidental death under Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Code, have now converted the case to an FIR for abetment to suicide, which is a cognisable offence. This FIR will alter the future course of investigations.

Gupta mentions in his complaint that a few months after joining Tata Steel, Jamshedpur, Charu mooted the idea of a major feature story on Tata Steel in Forbes India magazine. The article, when it appeared in April 2013, sparked off harassment that eventually led to his suicide.

Speaking to MiD DAY, Gupta confirmed registering the case against the Tata Steel official, “I have lodged my complaint with the police and have narrated everything that I was aware of – even those details that were collected after Charu’s death. We are hopeful that this would help the police proceed in their investigations and bring the guilty to book.”

“Charudutta was driven to commit suicide due to the harassment, mental torture and humiliation that he suffered during his stint at Tata Steel, Jamshedpur, at the hands of Prabhat Sharma,” Gupta said in his 13-page complaint.

Gurbir Singh, president, Press Club, Mumbai, said, “We were initially concerned about the slow progress in the case, but finally a formal FIR has been registered. We are hoping that action will be taken as per the provisions of the law, and proper justice is done in the matter.”

Gupta in his 12-page-long complaint provides details of his acquaintance with Charu, mentioning, ‘His suicide was perhaps a tragic culmination of the intense stress, frustration and most importantly, the complete humiliation that he was subjected to by some of his own colleagues and seniors during his year-long assignment at Tata Steel, Jamshedpur. And it came at the fag end of an otherwise successful corporate career’.

‘Sensing that Charu was being unfairly harassed, I began to speak to him on the phone on a regular basis. Charu said he was not allowed to leave Jamshedpur without permission. Many of his travel requests had been repeatedly rejected.

He kept repeating that it was futile for him to argue his case because no one was willing to listen to him. I advised him to escalate the matter to higher-ups in Mumbai. However he kept saying that it would simply aggravate the situation further for him in Tata Steel, Jamshedpur,’ Gupta said in his complaint to the police.

‘Clearly, Charu had a very bad time at Tata Steel. He couldn’t stop talking about it, even after he had left the organisation. The ordeal he suffered had left a deep scar on his psyche that he simply could not live down. He sought out friends like me, among others, to explain what really happened. Based on my own interactions with him and my subsequent conversation with some of his other close friends, there were perhaps enough tell-tale signs of his predisposition – except that given his nature, none of us could have possibly imagined that he would have taken such an extreme step’, Gupta mentioned in his complaint.

‘After he resigned, Charu returned to Mumbai in May a changed man. He seemed distraught. His quiet confidence and sense of humour had disappeared. He told me that the decision to join Tata Steel was the biggest mistake of his career. And even when he discussed his future, it seemed as if something was constantly gnawing him from inside. What had gone so horribly wrong?’ the report asks.

Gupta further stated, ‘He did not get any support from his superiors and even named an official who had threatened him, if Charu moved to get him transferred out of Jamshedpur.

Last call
Charu had even informed Gupta that he had discharged his professional obligations and that he did not worry about the consequences. ‘On June 13, Charu called me to say that he was keen to take the story of his harassment to the media and wanted to know if I could help him in any way. I was a bit surprised by the request, because Charu didn’t seem like the sort to pick up fights. That was the last time I actually spoke to him,” Gupta’s complaint states.

Shortly after Charu’s death, Gupta learnt that Charu’s place in the company had not been confirmed, and his six months of probation had been extended by another six. He was the only member of the senior management at that level in Tata Steel who had not been confirmed. And just three weeks before his second probation was to end, the Forbes article appeared.

‘In short, according to me, Charu was driven to suicide due to harassment, mental torture and humiliation that he suffered during his stint at Tata Steel, Jamshedpur at the hands of Prabhat Sharma’, Gupta’s report concludes.

Charu’s brother-in-law Mahesh Bhatkal told, “This is a logical step that the police have taken after taking serious cognisance of the complaints that were being made by close friends and media professionals who were known to Charu. I am happy that the state machinery has finally seen merits in our claims and are hopeful that justice would be done to Charu and his family.”

Prashant Deshpande, deputy superintendent, Vasai division, who is conducting the investigation, said the police would first gather evidence.

“An arrest can’t be made immediately in a case of this nature,” the officer said. “We will first collect evidence and carry out a thorough probe. Charges under Section 306 of the IPC have been applied against Sharma.”

The city crime branch, conducting a separate investigation that was ordered by home minister R R Patil following a demand from journalists, said Charudutta had named Sharma in a diary recovered from the former’s home.

“We found out that Charudutta was under severe pressure,” joint commissioner (crime) Himanshu Roy said. “He had left behind a diary where he specifically named Sharma. He was unhappy with the environment and many things that had happened at work.”

Crime branch sources said they had verified with experts that the handwriting in the diary was Charudutta’s.

Roy said the crime branch had not handed over any report to the police in Vasai. “They may have taken legal opinion and registered the FIR,” he said.

A joint team of the Thane rural police and the crime branch visited Jamshedpur in July to record statements of Tata Steel officials.

A Tata Steel spokesperson said: “Tata Steel is aware of the FIR filed by the Vasai Police in the matter relating to the unfortunate demise of its former employee Charudutta Deshpande. The company has been fully and openly cooperating with the investigation, and will continue to assist the legal process.”

The company said an internal inquiry committee had given its report to the board.

Deputy Superintendent (Vasai Division) Prashant Desphande said, “We have registered an FIR on the basis of a complaint by Indrajit Gupta against Prabhat Sharma, Tata Steel, Jamshedpur. Our investigation would now focus on the complaint that we have received.” Attempts to establish contact with Tata Steel did not yield results.

(Mid Day/Times of India)

Photo : Mid Day



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