New Delhi: The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the Karnakata government can continue with prosecution proceedings against Som Mittal, the former managing director of Hewlett-Packard GlobalSoft Pvt. Ltd, a service unit of Hewlett Packard Co. or HP, on charges of negligence that the state claims led to the rape and murder of an employee.
Culpability issue: Som Mittal, Nasscom chief and former MD of H-P GlobalSoft could face criminal conviction if charges are proved.
Mittal, who is now the president of industry lobby National Association of Software and Services Companies or Nasscom, headed the HP unit in Bangalore when Pratibha Srikanth Murthy, an employee of the company call centre, was raped and murdered in December 2005 by the driver of a company-engaged cab.
Although there have been several cases in the past that put the blame on company owners or top executives for failing to ensure employee safety at manufacturing businesses, this is seen as among the early instances involving the senior management of a tech services company.
Such decisions, a senior human resources (HR) executive said, were needed to ensure wide and serious adoption of staff security steps. In instances where adequate security is not provided to female employees, both the cab vendor and the firm should be held liable, said Saurabh Singh, HR director at software company Cvent India Pvt. Ltd. “We need to have a double check in these...situations,” Singh said, “or things won’t change.”
Though the punishment, if Mittal is convicted, is a fine of only Rs1,000, its repercussion is that it will be a criminal conviction, said Karnataka government counsel Sanjay R. Hegde. “It is a signal to managements...that any infraction of the law would have serious consequences,” he added.
The Karnataka high court had earlier dismissed Mittal’s plea that sought to challenge his prosecution at the trial court level on the charge of not providing adequate security for female employees as envisaged under Karnataka Shops and Establishment Act, 1961.
A division bench of the Supreme Court had upheld the high court order in late January. A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice K.G. Bala-krishnan on Thursday reaffirmed that judgement and dismissed Mittal’s appeal.
The prosecution proceedings will now continue in a trial court in Bangalore. “There is no conclusive finding of (Mittal) being guilty at this stage. Through its order, the Supreme Court has said that the trial court will now decide the final question of culpability,” said C.S. Vaidyanathan, a senior New Delhi-based counsel, interpreting Thursday’s order.
In a press statement, HP pointed out the prosecution of Mittal was not over. “In the matter concerning the order passed by the Supreme Court in response to a petition filed by Mr. Som Mittal (former managing director, Hewlett-Packard GlobalSoft Pvt. Ltd), HP India would like to clarify that the Hon’ble court has not pronounced either Mr. Mittal or HP guilty on any count.”
A Nasscom spokesperson, when contacted, said the trade body did not have any comment on the issue because Mittal was not holding its office when the incident took place. Mittal took over presidentship of Nasscom on 1 January.
Aruna Viswanatha contributed to this story.