The Tata Group on Tuesday initiated an inquiry into the death of Charudutta Deshpande, 57, a former journalist and former chief of corporate affairs and communications at Tata Steel, who committed suicide on 28 June.
Deshpande was found hanging at his Vasai home in Mumbai on that afternoon, but the police found no suicide note.
Nine of Deshpande's friends and former colleagues also requested Tata Group chairman Cyrus Mistry and chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata to order an inquiry into allegations that Deshpande was being subject to severe pressure by managers of Tata Steel, following the publication of a report in Forbes India on the challenges facing Cyrus Mistry, the Tata Group's new chairman.
His family and friends believe there is no way that Deshpande - who had lately quit the Tatas to take up another assignment - would have taken his life unless there was a good reason.
In a separate letter, ICICI Bank executve director K Ramkumar, a friend of Deshpande who had worked with him at the bank, had also written in his personal capacity to Ratan Tata, Cyrus Mistry and Krishna Kumar, director, Tata Sons, on 30 June requesting a probe into the causes leading to Deshpandes's demise. Ramkumar has also raised the issue with past and current HR heads in the Tata Group and other companies.
"Several senior journalists and other friends felt Charu had become a victim of machinations at Tata Steel. To press their point, they wrote a letter to Mistry and Ratan and attached prima facie evidence with it," said Gurbir Singh, president of the Mumbai Press Club.
The letters quoted Deshpande's friends, a family member, former colleagues and other people in whom he had confided. It said Deshpande had been allegedly receiving threatening calls and was being bullied into signing a document a day before he ended his life.
"Charu had been 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 seek your intervention into instituting an urgent and independent inquiry into the matter," the letters read.
A close family member said, ''(Charudutt) had joined Tata Steel last year because that would give him an opportunity to work till he was 60 and he did it for his daughter who had just joined a media course. But he was unhappy with the way things were and he was alone in Jamshedpur without his family. He was a dedicated man and he came out of the job completely shattered.''
Mistry, in his reply on Tuesday to the letter from Deshpande's friends and colleagues, said he was deeply shocked at the sudden death of Deshpande. He further wrote although Deshpande was not formally with the company at the time of his demise, he was "one of them in ways that go beyond the niceties of employment".
"You have referred in your letter to allegations about how he was treated in the last few weeks before his end. We take these allegations with the utmost seriousness," Mistry's letter said.
"We have put in place an 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," Mistry added.
Deshpande's close associates believe things took a turn for the worse after the Forbes magazine article.
The letter said that soon after the story appeared, he was in constant touch over the phone with Indrajit Gupta, then editor of Forbes India. He spoke of being confined for over two weeks at Jamshedpur and being harassed after the story appeared. He was not allowed to travel without permission, and articulated concerns about his cell phone being tapped.
Another journalist who spoke to Deshpande said that he kept referring to a mafia which was putting pressure on him.
The Forbes journalists who worked on the story on Tata Steel said they were willing to testify that he conducted himself with integrity and responsibility.