The Phantom of Bombay House: Upal Chakraborty

Guest post by UPAL CHAKRABORTY

[Published below is the story of a long fight against harassment and for justice by someone who took his corporate job and the interests of his company seriously, little knowing what it could lead to. It gives a glimpse into the corporate culture even among what are known to be the best corporate entities. ]

There was a gentleman whose name propped up frequently inside the Tata Group headquarters “Bombay House”, but he was more known by his sobriquet – the “Phantom of Bombay House”. He was considered a recluse and shunned social get-togethers as far as possible. Not a soul has ever seen him inside the premises, yet he held an 18.4% stake in the Tata Group. The gentleman was none other than the Late Pallonji Mistry, the father of the previous Group Chairman Cyrus Mistry whose family owned around 18% share of the Group. Tata professionals including Ratanji himself, reportedly, looked up to him for professional support.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that during the stewardship of his son, the episodes described in this article could take place. Mr. Mistry personally may or may not have been aware but for some strange reason the Group chose to turn a blind eye to a series of sordid happenings and preferred to side with an individual whose criminal acts were proved beyond any reasonable shade of doubt.The individual concerned, Mr. Tarun Kumar Samant or Tarun Kumar Sawant, can arguably be described as the new Phantom of Bombay House after the demise of Mr. Pallonji Mistry.

Let us delve into details of an unsavory and unfortunate episode to justify the sobriquet we have awarded him.

The Tatas are rated among the topmost companies with modern policies, processes, and technologies in place, and boasts of top-notch professionals. Their Code of Conduct is explicit and unambiguous: “We do not tolerate any form of retaliation against anyone reporting legitimate concerns. Anyone involved in targeting such a person will be subject to disciplinary action. If you suspect that you or someone you know has been subjected to retaliation for raising a concern or for reporting a case, we encourage you to promptly contact your line manager (and if it does not yield results, report to the higher-level supervisor), the company’s Ethics Counsellor, the Human Resources department, the MD/CEO, or the office of the group’s Chief Ethics Officer.”

What is the reality? We provide here anecdotal evidence of the harassment meted out to a senior executive of one of the Tata Group companies, not just in the form of dismissal from service but incarceration based on a false FIR, albeit for a short period. Despite being currently out on bail, he lives under tremendous stress and financial hardship for the sole reason that he attempted to uphold the integrity of the organization he was employed in.

The company in question, Tata Motors Insurance Broking & Advisory Services Ltd or TMIBASL, a subsidiary of Tata Motors Limited, is into providing insurance services to individuals who have purchased or are in the process of purchasing motor cars and other general insurance products or corporates who require insurance coverage of various types. Worth mentioning here is the fact that, although not a significant entity within the Tata Group, the activities of this direct subsidiary of Tata Motors Limited, even before the episode referred to below,  has not always been squeaky clean. Not many are aware that from 2011 to 2014, the insurance regulator IRDA had imposed an embargo on the company taking up any kind of insurance-related activity. It was only in 2014 that the Tata Group and Tata Sons were able to get the embargo revoked.

Now to the episode. An individual by the name of Pijush Kanti Roy was employed in the capacity of Senior Manager at the company’s Kolkata office.  He had joined the company on 13/10/2014. The IRDAI (Insurance Regulatory Development Authority of India) rules specifically state that the Chief Executive/ Principal Officer of the Company needs to possess a Graduate Degree as a minimum qualification. This is a statutory requirement. In due course of his employment, Roy started receiving emails from anonymous identities claiming to be whistle-blowers who attached copies of the PO’s self-attested forged degree. An NGO, by the name of Arise India Foundation, complained about this to the Chairman of IRDA, the Vice-Chancellor of Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut, Cyrus Mistry, the then TATA Group Chairman and the Police Commissioner of Mumbai. They claimed that the PO of the company, Tarun Kumar Samant (or Sawant) was the holder of a fake degree from Meerut University (presently Chaudhuri Charan Singh University) and had provided different self-attested versions of his graduation certificate to two entities. One bore the name of Tarun Kumar Sawant and it mentioned subjects pursued as  English, Economics and Political Science with General English in the General Course, with the signature and official stamp of the Vice-Chancellor of the university only – and the second carried the name of Tarun Kumar Samant, subjects passed being Economics, Political Science and English Literature with General English in the  General Course, and the signatures carried were that of  the Registrar and the Vice-Chancellor with an official stamp. A cursory look at the certificates would make it obvious even to a layman that the forgery was the job of an amateur roadside DTP unit.

Apprehensive that it violated statutory compliances of IRDAI with the potential of causing embarrassment to both TMBIASL and the Tata Group, Mr. Pijush Roy decided to pursue the matter. He did this internally and took up the issue verbally and officially with his seniors and subsequently through official channels to company authorities and finally to the top brass of Tata Group including the then Chairman, Mr. Cyrus Mistry.

The emails were sent to his seniors on 07/04/2016 and to the then Tata Group Chairman Cyrus Mistry on 19/04/2016.

As a “reward” for his bold action, he was terminated from service on the 5th of August 2016 on grounds of insubordination.

Later, Pijush Roy sent a mail to Ratan Tata, the interim Tata Chairman, providing details about the forgery and was assured of a fair inquiry by Mr. Chinmaya Joshi from Mr. Ratan Tata’s Office.

His contention was later validated by the IRDA. On the 2nd of May 2017, the body issued a letter to the TMIBASL (reference IRDS/DB324/05/15), addressed to the Chairman, clearly stating that “the Certificate submitted by Tarun Kumar Samant to IRDAI, based on which, approval of his appointment as CEO & Principal Officer of Tata Motors Insurance Brokers Advisory Services Limited was accorded on 07.04.2015, by the Authority, was surrendered by Sri Samant to the University and stood invalidated by the University on 02.02.2016.” Hence, they were directed “to remove him as the PO of the broking company immediately. The letter was signed by one Randip Singh Jagpal, Chief General Manager, IRDA.

That letter of IRDA proves that in February 2016, even before Pijush Roy had raised the issue in April, 2016, the concerned university itself had invalidated the same. The copy of the order was obtained by an appellate Vikas Narayan, who appealed to the Chief Information Commissioner, Bimal Julka, on 04.04.2019 and is currently in the possession of Pijush Roy. The respondent in that appeal was IRDAI.

In that order, the CIC had clearly mentioned:

“……On being queried by the Commission regarding the nature of the complaint and the action taken thereon, the Respondent submitted that consequent to an inquiry conducted by the Public Authority, the said officer (Tarun Samant) was removed from the post of Principal Officer of Tata Motors Insurance Brokerage and Advisory Services Ltd. since he did not fulfil the qualifications required for such positions….”

Further, the CIC opined that

 “…….The complaint made by the Appellant having been proved correct about wrong disclosure of the qualifications of the Pr. Officer of the said advisory services firm is tantamount to duping and cheating the gullible public and therefore strict penal action was warranted in such cases……”

Thus it was proven beyond any shadow of doubt that the CEO & Principal Officer of TMIBASL was not a university graduate and he had obtained a fake and forged university degree to obtain that post of statute.

There is another interesting fact.

It was on 7th December, 2016, that Tata Sons Limited, Plaintiff No. 1, Tata Motors Insurance Broking & Advisory Services Limited or TMIBASL, Plaintiff No. 2 (a group company and subsidiary of Tata Motors Limited) and the individual Tarun Kumar Samant or Sawant, the then CEO & PO of  TMIBASL, the plaintiff No.3 jointly approached the Delhi High Court (vide Case No CS COMM 1601/2016) to restrain anyone from publishing any material or news or statement with respect to Plaintiff No. 2 and Plaintiff No. 3.

The sitting judge, Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw agreed to issue an order to restrain certain unknown entities (John Does or Whistleblowers) from publishing any disparaging or derogatory comments about the plaintiffs, particularly Plaintiff no. 3. Concomitantly, he directed that the concerned regulator, the Insurance Regulatory & Development Authority or IRDA of India under which the TMIBASL, the company and Plaintiff No 2 is governed, should also investigate the claim by those unknown respondents (whistleblowers) that the Plaintiff No. 3, Tarun Kumar Samant or Sawant, the CEO and Principal Officer of Plaintiff No. 2 , a statutory post for which minimum required mandatory qualification is an university graduation, is not a graduate and if the documents furnished and submitted by him to obtain that post of statute were genuine or not.

On 7th December, 2016, thus, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court was ordering the IRDAI to probe the genuineness of the degree whereas the official confirmation from the concerned university was already there that the degree was not a valid one. This situation arose because The Delhi High Court was not informed of this fact by Mr. Samant (Sawant). Ultimately, the Plaintiffs went for an out-of-the court settlement with respondents after Tarun Kumar Samant or Sawant was removed under orders of the IRDAI on 02.05.2017.

The Tata Group had requisitioned the services of the consultancy entity, KPMG, to investigate this internally to which their response was that they had not received a written confirmation from the University although the University had verbally confirmed the genuineness of the certificate.

The following questions can therefore be legitimately asked.

  1. Was the Tata Group satisfied with the verbal confirmation?
  2. Why did Mr. Tarun Kumar Samant or Sawant not inform his employers, the IRDAI and the Delhi Court in December 2016 that his degree had been invalidated in February 2016?
  3. Why did IRDA not pursue the issue nor publicize it on their Web-site subsequently?
  4. Why did TMIBASL not lodge a legal/police case for forgery against the individual after May 2017?

It was the Central Information Commission (CIC) of India who, ultimately, against a RTI query, came down like a ton of bricks on IRDA and literally forced (Order No. CIC/IRDAA/A/2017/607334-BJ + CIC/IRDAA/A/2017/177155-BJ dated 03.04.2019), them to publish the matter on their official website despite severe opposition from IRDA.

The Central Information Commission went further and in that same order clearly stated that:

“On being queried by the Commission regarding the nature of the complaint and the action taken thereon, the Respondent submitted that consequent to an enquiry conducted by the Public Authority, the said officer was removed from the post of Pr. Officer of Tata Motors Insurance Brokerage and Advisory Services Ltd. since he did not fulfill the qualifications required for such a position…”

It may be noted that the “Respondent” herein is IRDA.

Against a separate RTI query by Pijush Roy, the IRDAI officially confirmed (Ref. IRDAI/R/E/22/00341 dated 17th May, 2022) that after Tarun Kumar Samant or Sawant was removed from the statutory post of CEO and Principal Officer of Tata Motors Insurance Broking & Advisory Services Limited, till then, neither he nor his company TMIBASL or the apex Tata Sons Ltd (who jointly moved Delhi High Court) had either appealed to IRDAI for revoking the removal decision or challenged the same in any forum or a court of law.

The next issue is – why did the plaintiffs Tata Sons Limited and Tata Motors Insurance Broking & Advisory Services Limited or TMIBASL approach the Delhi High Court without conducting an inquiry? It is understandable why Plaintiff No. 3 did this – to protect his own reputation and integrity – but why the organization chose to stand by their executive before conducting an investigation remains shrouded in mystery.

Moreover, the Central Information Commission in their official order stated that,

Having heard both the parties and on perusal of the available records, the Commission observed that pertinent issues were raised by the Appellant in his RTI application which were required to be disclosed in the larger public interest more so for the reason that the person against whom the complaint was made was removed since he did not possess the required qualifications for such position. It was felt that IRDA being the Regulatory Authority for the insurance sector was primarily entrusted with the task of protecting the interest of vast majority of investing public through the insurance policies thereby safeguarding their long term interest. The complaint made by the Appellant having been proved correct about wrong disclosure of the qualifications of the Pr. Officer of the said advisory services firm is tantamount to duping and cheating the gullible public and therefore strict penal action was warranted in such cases.The protection under Section 8 (1) (j) had been wrongly used by the Public Authority for reasons best known to them. There is every possibility of mis-selling(sic) of policies by these erring officials of such advisory firms and therefore all necessary disclosures with regard to the conduct of the Pr. Officer was necessary to be put out in the public domain to protect the interest of the investing public…”(Highlights are ours).

In this regard, the Chief Information Commission (CIC)/New Delhi, has stated in its order CIC/IRDAA/A/2017/607334-BJ + CIC/IRDAA/A/2017/177155-BJ dated 03.04.2019, quoted IRDAI that they got the above named Tarun Kumar Samant or Sawant removed from his post of statute as he did not possess the mandatory qualification required for the post. 

It is thus established beyond any shadow of doubt that the gentleman concerned was guilty of forgery and deserves stringent punishment.

Nonetheless, instead of going after the criminal, the Tata Group is pursuing, with vengeance, a hapless terminated employee – an employee who officially raised this issue initially with his immediate reporting authority and then with the topmost level of the Group during the chairmanship of Cyrus Mistry. He even communicated the matter to Mr. Ratan Tata against which there was an official acknowledgement and an assurance of a proper enquiry, although Mr. Roy is willing to accede that the gentlemen who acknowledged the mails may not have considered it worthwhile to communicate the issue to Messrs. Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry, considering their seniority within the Group.

An FIR was instead registered in the Cyber Crime Cell of Mumbai Police against the employee, Mr. Pijush Roy, on a complaint by one Bhanu Bhai Sharma, the CFO and Chief Compliance Officer of TMIBASL. It is worth mentioning that on 20th September, 2016, Bhanu Bhai Sharma was present with Tarun Kumar Samant or Sawant in the meeting with officials of IRDAI on the issue of validity of the university degree. The employee was arrested by the Mumbai Police on the basis of false and frivolous charges mentioned in the complaint.

To further add to his harassment, the company TMIBASL and the individual Tarun Kumar Samant or Sawant jointly filed a defamation suit for Rs. 100 crores in Bombay High Court in “original side”, which implies that the plaintiffs have to deposit a certain amount as court fees to the Bombay High Court. It is also pertinent that the fees were officially deposited at the Bombay High Court by a Tata Group entity along with an individual about whom the Central Information Commission of India has asked for strict penal action for cheating and duping the gullible public.

Now, the jobless employee from Kolkata has to fight two separate cases in Mumbai. His wife has since sent mails thrice to Mr. Ratan Tata and the current chairman Mr. Chandrasekharan stating the facts and detailing the precarious conditions under which the entire family consisting of ailing parents and a daughter are existing today but they chose not to reply. It is once again possible that the mail was ignored by some individual in Mr. Chandrashekharan’s office, and so it is the duty of civic society and other individuals to ensure that this piece of information reaches him and he is compelled to take action.

In the year 2020, Mr. Roy, who was also apprehensive about his and his family’s safety, filed a FIR No. Ref: Park Street P.S (Sec-K1) Case No.66 Dated. 21.03.2020 U/S-120B/463/464/465/467/468/420 IPC with Park Street police station of Kolkata stating details of the episode, along with all documents available in the public domain and copies of replies against the RTI queries. He also asked for the arrest of Mr. Sawant (or Samant) on charges of forgery. There has been no attempt to quash this FIR. Also, the Park Street Police station has remained silent on the registered FIR. Neither are they pursuing the investigation nor closing the case.

The present Commissioner of Police, Mr. Vineet Kumar Goyal IPS and two of his immediate predecessors Mr. Soumen Mitra, IPS and Mr. Anuj Sharma, IPS are fully aware of the issue. Ms. Debasmita Das IPS, then DC DD Special and current DC South of Kolkata Police Mr. Akash Magharia IPS have interacted with the complainant several times. Unfortunately, no progress has been reported till now.

Why this conspicuous inaction on the part of Kolkata Police? Is there any particular reason?

Owing to this inaction of Kolkata Police against that FIR for almost three years, Pijush Roy has approached Kolkata High Court by filing a writ petition. The matter got listed and will come up for hearing very soon. Notices have been served to the Home Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal, Commissioner of Kolkata Police, Deputy Commissioner-Detective Department (Special) and Deputy Commissioner South and Park Street Police station. 

Also, the Central Vigilance Commission of India has taken up the matter of alleged corruption and bribery against the concerned officers of Kolkata Police and West Bengal Government who fall under their jurisdiction.

But, ultimately, the question remains as to why the Tata group is not pursuing a case of forgery against Mr. Tarun Kumar Samant (or Sawant) and acknowledging their mistake in dismissing Mr. Roy, which also entails – in all fairness – a certain quantum of compensation to be paid to him.

To add to his harassment, Pijush Roy was recently summoned to Mumbai on charges of contempt of court by Bombay High Court in the bench of Justice Ismail Chagla, since he had composed a note to the Chief Justice of India with all relevant documents and also to the Chief Justices of the High Courts of Bombay, Delhi and Kolkata, marking copies to Mr. Ratan Tata and the current Chairman Mr. N. Chandrasekharan, detailing the travails faced by himself, his octogenarian parents, a homemaker wife and a recently graduated daughter. On both occasions the hearings could not be held, and he had to return to Kolkata. The next hearing was due on 30th November, 2022, which meant travelling to Mumbai for the 3rd time within a span of one and half months.

It is also to be noted that Justice Dipankar Datta, the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court is totally aware of the entire matter. On 6th January 2021, one advocate named Mrs. Madhuparna Ghosh from Kolkata officially communicated the entire matter, including replies against these RTI queries from Central Information Commission and IRDAI to Justice Dipankar Datta, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of Bombay High Court. The same was officially acknowledged by his office along with an official reply, bearing no. G/285/2021 dated 6th March, 2021 from one Ms. R. C. Kale, Master & Asstt. Prothonotary (Judl.) High Court, Bombay.

The saga described above may, arguably, lead cynics to conclude that Tarun Kumar Samant or Sawant is the new Phantom of Bombay House, replacing Mr. Pallonji Mistry. His spirit pervades Bombay House although he is not physically present there.

4 thoughts on “The Phantom of Bombay House: Upal Chakraborty”

  1. Request Mr Ratan Tata to kindly intervene and ensure that justice is done.
    That indeed shall be doing justice to the impeccable reputation has built over decades.

    Like

    1. Why request? Why mew-mewing? Ratan Tata’s secretariat knew everything including 50+day police custody of Pijushin Mumbai on concocted charges. Ratan Ta ta must intervene and either pay huge compensation (at least rs 10kakhs) or take Pijush back to service.

      Like

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