Supreme Court refuses to stop Nasscom chief’s trial

February 21st, 2008 - 11:17 pm ICT by admin  


New Delhi, Feb 21 (IANS) The Supreme Court Thursday refused for the second time to stop National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) chief Som Mittal’s prosecution for his alleged failure to provide security to a woman employee who was raped and murdered. A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan allowed Mittal’s prosecution, endorsing the Jan 29 ruling by another bench of the apex court which had dismissed the Nasscom’s chief plea.

Rejecting the plea of the Nasscom chief, the bench of Justice H.K. Sema and Justice Markandey Katju had said that they would not interfere with his ongoing trial and only the trial court would decide Mittal’s criminal liability in the case.

The case against Mittal was lodged on a complaint by the Bangalore labour commissioner after Pratibha Srikant Murthy, an employee of Hewlett-Packard GlobalSoft’s BPO unit, was raped and killed by the cab driver on her way home from office on the night of Dec 12, 2005.

Mittal was then managing director of the firm.

As the Banglore magisterial court began Mittal’s trial, he moved the Karnataka High Court to quash the criminal proceedings. But the high court refused to interfere with the trial court’s decision to prosecute him. So too did the Supreme Court.

During the hearing on Mittal’s petition, his counsel K.K. Venugopal argued that his client being a managing director of the firm was not liable to be prosecuted on charges of failure in providing security to the woman employee.

But Karnataka government counsel Anita Shenoy contended that a managing director too was liable to be prosecuted under the Karnataka Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, 1961.

The bench of Justice H.K. Sema and Justice Markandey Katju, while dismissing Mittal’s plea, refused to take into account the arguments of two counsel.

The bench said, “At this stage we are not prepared to enter into the merits of the case” on whether the managing director of a firm could be held liable for rape and murder of a woman employee working under him due to his failure in providing adequate security.

The two judges unequivocally agreed that the apex court as well as the high courts should sparingly exercise their power to quash criminal proceedings against a person by the lower court “unless there is grave miscarriage of justice”.

But owing to some differences between the two judges on a legal point of the judgement, Justice Sema had referred the ruling to the chief justice.

While clarifying the technicalities, the chief justice too ruled that the higher court should sparingly interfere with a criminal proceeding launched by a trial court.

Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard said in a statement: “In the matter concerning the order passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in response to a petition filed by Som Mittal, HP India would like to clarify that the Hon’ble court has not pronounced either Mittal or HP guilty on any count.”

“It has only directed Mittal to urge all the contentions as available under law, including maintainability of the complaint, before the trial court. However, since the matter is sub-judice, HP would not like to comment on any specifics related to the case at this point,” it added.

Nasscom, which is a body representing Indian IT companies and BPO firms, refused to comment.

Asked to comment, IT Communications specialist Sanjiv Kataria said, “The first reaction is ‘oh no, how can that happen to an industry veteran!’.”

“However, when you think for a while you say, the industry deserves it. If the Indian government jailed Union Carbide’s (Warren) Anderson after the Bhopal gas leak disaster of 1985 for causing hurt to the community, it is only fair that the then head of HP BPO in India is treated in the same manner for not protecting company staff,” Kataria said.

“Such landmark judgments will ensure that workplace safety gets addressed with the seriousness that it deserves,” he added.

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