The Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling, has said that Som Mittal, who is currently Chairman of NASSCOM, should be prosecuted for not taking measures to ensure the safety of employees while he was heading Hewlett Packard.

In December 2005, one of the employees, Pratibha Srikant Murthy was raped and murdered by a cab driver who was an employee of the taxi firm contracted by the company. Soon after, the Karnataka police had filed an FIR against Mittal, alleging that his company violated a State government order prohibiting night shift for women. Mittal, on his part, had challenged the dismissal of his petition by the Karnataka High Court against a case registered by the Karnataka government. At the time this happened, the official stance taken by HP was quite stand-offish, and they could definitely have shown a more caring attitude. 

However, this raises an interesting question: In future, in the event of ANY mishap, will the head of that company always be made the respondent in such cases ? While I feel HP could have handled the situation a lot better than it did at the time, I think a more deeper analysis needs to be done when it comes to fixing liability and criminal intent.

On the one hand, this could be a wake up call to all those heading their organizations that they could be held responsible for such lapses, making them tighten up procedures more. On the other hand, this could end up leading to harassment of CEOs, especially if they are required to make multiple appearances in court. Of course, if their complicity is proved (in cases like this one, or even those like sexual harassment, defrauding shareholders etc), then by all means, the law must take it’s course.

By the same logic, we could also have zillions of FIRs lodged against policemen and the military in this country, or for that matter even elected representatives like the PM, every time there is a terrorist attack in the country. After all, as Head of the Government of the day, the PM is responsible for the safety of every citizen in this country, and any such attack resulting in deaths of people means he has failed in his duty to protect them.

What do you feel ?