R Venkataraman, managing trustee of Tata Trusts, India’s biggest charitable group, may move to another part of the Tatas.
The issue of Venkat’s continuation and his possible shift into another role may be taken up at the Trusts’ upcoming board meet next week, sources said. An email sent to Tata Trusts’ spokesperson on the matter went unanswered.
Venkat, 44, joined the Trusts as an executive trustee in February 2014 and thereafter, became the managing trustee of the charitable organization. He has also been assisting the office of Ratan Tata since early 2007 and, over the years, is widely considered to have become a trusted lieutenant of the chairman emeritus of the Tata Group.
In current years, Venkat has been in some controversy amid allegations of misuse of income tax exemptions and aggressive fund commitments by the Trusts. Besides overseeing the Trusts’ affairs, Venkat is a shareholder and director of AirAsia India, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia. He is also a director of RNT Associates, an investment firm floated by Ratan Tata that invests in startups and emerging disruptive business models such as Uber and Airbnb.
Recently, the income tax department withdrew exemptions to Venkat’s salary that ran into a few crores, stating that the annual income drawn by the managing trustee was beyond the permissible limit under the I-T Act. The I-T department had sought to cancel the Trusts’ licenses for non-compliance of rules with regard to usage of funds. Some time ago, Venkat was also named in a case by the CBI for breaking rules to obtain a flying license for AirAsia India.
It is not clear who Venkat’s successor will be, should he move out of the Trusts. Harish Krishnaswamy is currently the chief operations officer at the Trusts. In December 2018, two trustees — Vijay Singh and Venu Srinivasan — were elevated as vice-chairmen of the Trusts, which disbursed Rs 1,200 crore in fiscal 2018 towards philanthropic activities. The Trusts, unlike other private foundations floated by wealthy individuals, are public charitable organizations, whose beneficiaries are the public at large, and can apply for income tax exemptions. The Trusts is also the controlling shareholder of Tata Sons, the holding company of the $111-billion Tata Group.
Venkat drew attention when ousted Tata Group chairman Cyrus Mistry accused him of hiding fraudulent transactions in AirAsia India and asking Tata Capital to disburse loans to Chennai-based entrepreneur C Sivasankaran, which subsequently turned into non-performing assets.