R Venkataramanan, embroiled in a tax row over his remuneration and under the scanner of the investigating agencies, stepped down as managing trustee of the Tata Trusts. Almost simultaneously, in what’s seen as a crucial appointment, Noel Tata was inducted as a trustee of the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, ensuring the continued association of the family with the philanthropic body that controls the Tata Group.
After a five-hour meeting, the board of trustees said Venkataramanan’s request to be relieved of his responsibilities had been “regretfully accepted.” Venkataramanan, known in Tata circles as Venkat, has completed five years as executive and managing trustee. His resignation as a trustee will take effect on March 31.
The move follows speculation about his departure from the managing trusteeship, owing to the controversies swirling around him. The income tax department recently withdrew the exemption given to Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, one of the Tata Trusts, on account of Venkataramanan’s salary exceeding the permissible tax bracket. He’s also being examined as part of the Central Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry into allegations that AirAsia India used illegal tactics to lobby for a change in policies. The Enforcement Directorate has filed a money laundering case against AirAsia India over the same issue. Venkataramanan was the Tata nominee on the board of the carrier.
The induction of Noel Tata is significant, according to Tata veterans and other insiders. ET had reported on January 9 that Ratan Tata loyalist NA Soonawala was among those keen to have Noel Tata on the board of the Tata Trusts as was the broader Parsi community. This was seen as a way of ensuring that a member of the Tata family would continue to be associated with the group and possibly take his turn at the helm.
While Noel Tata has been inducted on the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, for now, he is expected to be soon appointed a trustee of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust as well.
Tata Trusts chairman Ratan Tata is 81, while his halfbrother Noel Tata is 62.
In another move, a committee of trustees has been set up to oversee operations and to select a chief executive for the Tata Trusts. The committee consists of Ratan Tata, retired bureaucrat Vijay Singh and the TVS Group’s Venu Srinivasan. The latter two are also vice chairmen of the Tata Trusts.
Noel Tata was made a trustee of the Sir Ratan Tata Trust as was philanthropist Jehangir HC Jehangir, currently spearheading the healthcare mission at Jehangir Hospital, Pune. A Tata executive said Noel Tata’s induction on the Sir Ratan Tata Trust was the first step. Appointments in other trusts would happen in “due course” as and when vacancies arose.
“These are the individuals that the Trusts expect to benefit from, thanks to their vast experience,” the senior executive said.
The trustees placed on record the significant contribution of Venkataramanan in steering and executing the objectives of the Tata Trusts’ portfolios over the last five years.