| Venkataramana: Crying foul
Mumbai, Feb. 25: The Nalco molestation case broke out of a lull today with the arrest and release of the company’s chief who said the allegation was trumped up to “tarnish my image and that of the company”.
C. Venkataramana, the chairman and managing director of the aluminium company, surrendered before Mumbai police this morning, almost a fortnight after one of his subordinates accused him of molesting her in a hotel.
Venkataramana was immediately arrested and taken before a magistrate who granted him bail.
Venkataramana later called a media conference to “express his innocence and shock”. “The charges filed by the woman are baseless and unfortunate,’’ he said. “They are also unsubstantiable and crass.’’
“Somebody has done this to tarnish my image and that of the company. I assure everybody that I will come out clean and prove my innocence in the court of law.’’
Two police teams had gone in search of Venkataramana to Delhi, where he was supposed to be when the woman’s complaint was made public on February 13, and Bhubaneswar, where Nalco’s head office is located.
The woman, working at Nalco’s Mumbai office in Worli, had complained that Venkataramana had molested her on February 8. The woman later told The Telegraph that she could break free only after she pushed her boss aside.
Venkataramana today denied the charges. “My arrest and my involvement in the incident will hamper neither my relation with the company nor its expansion plans.’’
Standing by the chairman, the Nalco Officers’ Association had recently termed the molestation allegation a conspiracy hatched by private companies to derail the public sector giant’s expansion plan. Nalco is the second-largest aluminium company in the country and the largest in the public sector.
Venkataramana’s office issued a simultaneous statement in Bhubaneswar, quoting him as saying: “It is indeed unfortunate that the police took cognisance of such a frivolous allegation.”
Explaining the delay in reaching Mumbai, the Nalco chief said: “I came to know about the allegation on February 13. Since there was an apprehension of arrest, I contacted my lawyer. As the 14th and the 15th were holidays, the lawyer filed a petition in Delhi High Court on February 16 for anticipatory bail. On February 25, the high court asked the Sahar police station to file status (report) of the case. On the same day, Mumbai police informed the court that I am required only under bailable offences.
“On the same day itself, I presented myself to the police concerned to join investigation,” he added in the statement.
After Venkataramana’s media conference was over, the woman at the centre of the storm said: “There are pressures (to retract) but it is too late now. The matter will now be decided by the court. Let us see what happens. I will fight until I can.’’
She had earlier alleged that the Nalco chief had tried to use emissaries to arrive at a compromise but she had refused. Asked if she was afraid, she replied: “I am under pressure, especially when my 12-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son look at me for inspiration and courage. All I know is that my family and truth is with me. Dar toh bilkul nahi lag raha hai.’’