Rohan Coelho, 21, a resident of Navi Mumbai, was looking at apartments in Gurgaon early last week. Almost 10 months ago, he had been handpicked from Birla Institute of Technology and Science-Goa by Grofers, one of the hottest delivery start-ups in the country. A few weeks later, he was offered a package north of Rs 12 lakh a year and the company raised $120 million in fresh funds. Coelho had been in constant touch with human resources department ever since. They were as eager to welcome him as he was to join them. Then, on the evening of June 28, his phone pinged. He had an e-mail from Grofers.
A few hundred km away, 23-year-old Anwesha Sharma (name changed) was at Varanasi railway station to board a train to Delhi. Gurgaon awaited her. Grofers had promised her a lucrative job, just like Coelho. But, as she was about to get on the train, she got an e-mail from Grofers.
The e-mail had been sent to 64 others at the same time, saying the firm was withdrawing all offers. No apology. No explanation. No phone calls. A two-sentence e-mail. The students lashed out. Facebook posts and tweets detailing the event were posted. Coelho and others marched to the Grofers’ office in Gurgaon and demanded to meet the HR and the management. “After much waiting, two people from HR came down to meet us. They gave us no written assurances…. We asked to meet the management and they refused,” said Coelho. Some were told they had to vacate the hotel room they had been occupying ahead of the joining date, in a day. The graduates were, however, assured return train fares.
Nothing came. Calls were made to HR but everyone who had interacted with them had turned off their phones. No one was sure if they would get the money to go home. The hotel desk insisted they either pay up or vacate it. Everyone left. The students wrote angry e-mails, asking if the firm had any plans to pay them any compensation. But, since none of them had actually joined the company, they were eligible for nothing. They were forced to go home.
Several like Coelho could afford to fly back to Mumbai. Others have been trying and failing to get the last-minute train. The graduates have gone quietly into the night. “We don’t think we can sue the company… if this was another country, maybe,” said Coelho.
The colleges, however, have not given up the fight. Neither have the alumni network at BITS, Pilani and its Goa campus; Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology at Allahabad; Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad; and National Institutes of Technology at Surathkal and Allahabad.
“Grofers had bargained very hard to get a Day One slot. They were offering a very attractive job profile and pay packages,” said a professor in charge of one of the engineering institutes whose students had to return empty-handed. He told this newspaper even if Grofer’s business is facing a slowdown, the firm should have handled it better.
Most institutions have decided to blacklist Grofers from participating in any placement programmes. None of the institutions came on record, though. There are those who don’t agree with blacklisting. B S Jain, former vice-chancellor of BITS Pilani, now with IIT-Delhi, said blacklisting was not the right option. “Campus placements are here to stay. The method of hiring will have to be tweaked,” he said. Jain suggested instead of 10 months before graduation, it might have to start six months from the date they join. He also suggested these companies should not be given early-day slots. “But, there has to be a compensation and communication better than the two-line e-mail.” Since most of these students were hired on Day One, the institutions could be advised to let these students participate in this year’s hiring programmes, according to Jain.
All attempts by Business Standard to reach Grofers’ co-founder Albinder Dhindsa, who has been the key spokesperson for the company, failed.
While this is not the first time a company was withdrawing offers, engineering institute professors said in this case, no proper communication was sent, nor any compensation offered.
The head of placements at an IIT said, “Had they at least given some other options like a fixed sum of Rs 30,000-Rs 50,000 or internships for two-three months, the situation would have been better.”