The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sex abuse charge against public sector boss

Mumbai, Feb. 13: An ivory tower of Corporate India was sucked into allegations of sexual stalking at workplace with an employee accusing the chairman and managing director of the country’s largest public sector aluminium company of molesting her while a manager waited outside a hotel room.

Mumbai police have filed a case against C. Venkataramana, the chief of National Aluminium Company (Nalco), and arrested the company’s regional manager Virender Singh. A probe team is being sent to Bhubaneswar, where Nalco is based, but Venkataramana has contacted the police to deny the charges.

The alleged victim has said in a first information report that the incident occurred in a suite of a five-star hotel in Mumbai on Sunday.

The complaint said that on February 8, when Venkataramana was in Mumbai, the woman, along with Singh, was asked to go to the hotel for an “urgent discussion”. The woman was first offered paan and then a glass of wine, both of which she refused, according to the complaint.

Venkataramana then reportedly told her that he wanted to “relax” with her. The complaint said he made further advances and said, “I hope you understand”, prompting her to cry for help. Regional manager Singh, who was waiting outside, then intervened and told his boss that the woman was due for a promotion and he should help her.

Sharad Marathe, the officer-in-charge of Sahar police station, told PTI that the woman named Singh a co-accused as she said that he was aware of the molestation. Singh apologised to the woman later but “expressed his inability to protest against the boss”, Marathe said.

Singh, who was arrested yesterday, was released this evening after he was given bail on a bond of Rs 5,000.

Denying the charge over the phone, Venkataramana told the police that he met the woman employee in the hotel room and she sought his help in getting a promotion. He told her that it went against the company’s rules, Venkataramana said, adding that the allegation was intended at seeking retribution.

Police sources quoted the woman as saying that she was traumatised for three days after the incident and could muster courage to file the complaint only after talking to her husband and consulting a lawyer.

Disbelief greeted the news when it reached the sprawling complex of the aluminium giant, the biggest such firm in the public sector and the second largest in the country, in Bhubaneswar. “We don’t know much. It has come as a rude shock to us. It’s just unbelievable. He was doing well and the company is also doing well,” said Harish Pradhan, the public relations officer of Nalco.

Colleagues described the 54-year-old Venkataramana as a “dynamic person” known for his “excellent behaviour”. Venkataramana lives in Bhubaneswar with his wife, son and daughter.

They added that Venkataramana had left for Delhi yesterday. An unidentified person who picked up the phone in his Delhi office this afternoon said he was not in. In Bhubaneswar, Venkataramana’s daughter said: “We don’t want to make any comment. Father is in Delhi.”

Both Mumbai and the corporate sector are not strangers to sex scandals but this is the first time that such a cloud is being cast on the top-most official of a jewel in the public sector crown.

Allegations of rape were levelled by a South African activist against a judge of Indian origin during the World Social Forum meeting in Mumbai last month. The complaint was eventually withdrawn.

In 2002, a lawsuit was filed against Phaneesh Murthy, who was an Infosys director, in the US, accusing him of sexual harassment. Phaneesh left Infosys and the company reached an out-of-court settlement with the accuser.

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