How HR head Abhishek Mishra paid the price for being a whistleblower

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Here is the story of a brave HR professional, who stood by his people, fought against PF evasion at MW High Tech Projects India, and paid a hefty price.

HR professionals have often been accused of taking sides with the organisation. Yes, one may argue that it is HR’s job to safeguard the organisation’s interest. But does the same rule apply when the organisation is involved in some illegal and unethical activities? Should you be party to it? Fighting against the system requires guts. It’s easier said than done.

Here is the story of a brave HR professional who dared to go against the organisation and paid the price for it.

Abhishek Mishra, 36, joined MW High Tech Projects India, a subsidiary of German engineering and construction company, M+W Group GmbH, in March 2016 as head of HR for India, with additional responsibilities for Asia.

Two weeks into the job, when a PF official came to check on the requisite papers and details, this MBA from Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management discovered certain anomalies in the PF deposits. At first he thought these were minor deviations and sought help from the senior management so that he could give a satisfactory answer to the PF official. To his surprise, he was bluntly asked to stay away from the entire episode.

Mishra delved deeper and discovered several other malpractices. “I learnt that workers were not being paid the minimum wage, and also that the Company had been evading depositing PF money and that the quantum of PF evasion was running up to a few hundreds of crores of rupees. In addition, the Company had not been filing its balance sheets for the last few years,” Mishra shares with HRKatha.

Two weeks into the job, Mishra discovered certain anomalies in the PF deposits. When he contacted the senior management, to his surprise, he was bluntly asked to stay away from the entire episode.

“I did try to explain it to the management that the anomalies were huge and it couldn’t be kept under wraps, as sooner or later they are bound to be caught,” Mishra explains.

Following this, he wrote several mails to the top management but there was no reply to any of them.

“Finally, when I threatened to inform the enforcement authorities, they offered me a huge sum of money to keep my mouth shut,” Mishra says.

“I was told – ‘You Indians are up for sale, quote your price’,” shares Mishra

“I refused to budge and reported the same to the government regulatory authorities,” he adds.

In addition, the Company wanted to make scapegoats out of a few employees, and asked Mishra to force them to quit. Mishra refused to succumb to the pressure. Instead, he stood by these employees and questioned the management on these employees’ role in the entire episode because the ultimate beneficiary in evading tax and PF money was the Company and not these individuals.

Finally, he was terminated from the job. Mishra fought back and approached the Labour Court, which found that the termination was illegal. Though he was officially reinstated, the Company found ways to keep him at bay.

To probe allegations of PF evasion pertaining to hundreds of employees of MW High Tech Projects, the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), set up a four-member commission of inquiry in Hyderabad, late last year.

The Company wanted to make scapegoats out of a few employees, and asked Mishra to force them to quit. Mishra refused to succumb to the pressure. Instead, he stood by these employees and questioned the management on these employees’ role in the entire episode because the ultimate beneficiary in evading tax and PF money was the Company and not these individuals.

“Normally, we do not appoint any inquiry committee into the charges of PF violations by companies. But in this case, the magnitude of evasion is said to be very high— to the extent of ?150 crore. Hence, we appointed a commission of inquiry, headed by an assistant commissioner and three enforcement officers, to probe into the company records. We shall complete the investigation at the earliest,” said Bhola Chandrasekhar, regional PF commissioner in Hyderabad to HT.

However, Mishra’s estimate is that the quantum of PF evasion will be in surplus of Rs 400 crore.

Mishra alleges that he has been forced to remain under cover since then as not only were the lives of his family members threatened, but he too was threatened with being implicated in false cases.

I learnt that workers were not being paid the minimum wage, and also that the Company had been evading depositing PF money and that the quantum of PF evasion was running up to a few hundreds of crores of rupees. In addition, the Company had not been filing its balance sheets for the last few years.

Mishra left the company in August 2016 and is now ready to take his next assignment with an organisation of ethics. He is confident that there will be several organisations that seek people like him. His family has been extending unprecedented support in this long battle.

Ask him what inspired him to take such a bold step, and Mishra asserts that he wanted to be on the right side and do what was ethical and what was expected of him as the HR head.

HR Katha tried contacting the India MD, Anil Chanana and India compliance head, Vikas Pareek at MW High Tech Projects, but there was no response to the mail. While the M+W Group’s official website earlier mentioned a list of its projects in India, the Company has taken off all details related to its work here after regulatory authorities started probing violations. Mishra alleges the Company is in the process of winding up its India operations.

Mishra concludes, “I just want to spread this message that it’s not difficult to fight back when you are truthful and honest. At the Labour Court, the Company hired a battery of 10 lawyers, and I, without the money power or any legal assistance still won the case.”

Do we need many more like Abhishek Mishra? No doubt!