As a new D-G takes over, RK Pachauri seems to have been delivered a new set of troubles. All eyes are now on how the case pans out when the hearing starts
By Ramesh Menon
Finally, the governing council of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) acted. It removed its 74-year-old director-general, Dr RK Pachauri, as pressure mounted from a section of vocal employees and questions were raised in the media about the propriety of letting him continue after a sexual harassment charge was made against him by a 29-year-old female colleague in March this year.
The high-profile council has luminaries such as Naina Lal Kidwai, country head, HSBC Holdings; Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, CMD, Biocon Ltd; and Deepak Parekh, chairman, HDFC. They replaced Pachauri with Dr Ajay Mathur, who had earlier been with TERI and was D-G of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency.
Employees of TERI have heaved a sigh of relief with Mathur taking over. He is well-respected within the organization and is credited with ushering in a lot of changes in the energy sector. He has also been active in global discussions on climate change and was part of India’s negotiating team setting up the Green Climate Fund in South Korea.
Pachauri, who had been with the organization ever since it started 34 years ago, went on leave when the case was filed in March. So TERI employees were surprised when he filed a petition asking that he be allowed to resume work, arguing that not working affected him monetarily. The Delhi High Court then allowed him to enter all offices of TERI, except the headquarters in Delhi and its Gurgaon branch, where the victim had been transferred.
Four months earlier, the court had res-trained him from entering any of TERI’s offices till completion of the investigation. The Delhi Police had also sought cancellation of the anticipatory bail which Pachauri had secured soon after the complaint was filed. The police had claimed that he was being evasive and was not cooperating. They had also alleged that he was influencing witne-sses. Pachauri had denied the allegations.
The victim had also approached the court, seeking cancellation of his bail, on the grou-nds that free and fair investigation could not be carried out if he was allowed to visit the TERI offices.
One of the first things that Pachauri did after he rejoined was to get a shuttle service started between TERI headquarters and the Defence Colony office where he had joined, so that staffers could move to and fro.
Prashant Mendiratta, the complainant’s lawyer, told India Legal: “We found that many who had complaints of a similar nature against Pachauri were not ready to come forward publicly because of fear that he would return. That is why we said that let him first prove that this is a false case and then join work. When he joined the Defence Colony office, I am told that women wrote to the governing council that they did not feel safe with him in the office.”
When he did visit the office after the court order, there was resentment. Many younger employees got together and decided to voice their protest to the council. They sent out mails asking others to join them in the pro-test as the sexual abuse had happened in their backyard. One of the employees, who insisted on anonymity, said that it had become extremely difficult to defend the organization’s stance outside the office. Some of them went on protest leave, while some in the senior management said that it was of no consequence as there were 700 employees and some going on leave did not matter.
After resuming work, Pachauri removed acting director, Dr Leena Srivastava, and appointed her as a “Distinguished Fellow”. He even wrote to employees that this year’s Eid was special for him as he had come back.
The complainant told India Legal: “The press release issued by TERI does not have the slightest mention of my complaint and the ICC (Internal Complaints Committee) indictment. It does not say if the development on the new D-G was an action based on my complaint. There were at least 10 days for the board members to implement the ICC recommendations before the ex-parte order was obtained.”
While Pachauri resigned as the chief of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN body, soon after the police complaint, he chose not to resign from TERI. Former solicitor-general Indira Jaising asks: “Why are there two standards—one for an international body and another for an Indian one? Obviously, it was because internationally, sexual abuse at the workplace is treated and punished with great seriousness.” Activist lawyers like Vrinda Grover had pointed out that there could be a fair trial only if he quit.
The ICC too emphasized that repeated attempts by Pachauri to foster personal relationships with employees amounted to violation of the prevention of sexual harassment policy. In its 33-page report released in May, it recommended that disciplinary action be taken against him and that he should compensate the victim for the torture she had gone through. It noted that her health had seriously deteriorated because of the consequent stress and trauma and she even had to resort to counseling. The committee had examined 30 witnesses who deposed for Pachauri, apart from 19 who deposed for the complainant.
Pachauri then approached the Industrial Labor Tribunal, praying that the recommendations of the ICC be stayed as he had been denied the principles of natural justice. It was stayed, but a judgment on it is yet to be given. The next hearing is in September.
The committee said that it was under pressure from certain individuals within the organization.
Though the complainant was transferred to Gurgaon in May, she did not join as Pachauri continued as D-G and work given to her was different and not suited to the qualifications she had. She has been on unpaid leave ever since she lodged her
Though Pachauri has lost his TERI job, he continues to be the chancellor of TERI University. Asks Jaising: “What message is this sending to young students? Are we telling them that it is okay to tolerate sexual abuse in the workplace?”
When will the trial start is a question many are asking. P Ramana Reddy, a former TERI official who says he knew of others who were also sexually abused by Pachauri in the office, says: “It is a pity that Indian laws have loopholes to allow well-connected accused to easily escape the law. This is what is happening with the Pachauri case.” Reddy’s online petition asking for Pachauri’s removal from TERI on change.org had attracted over 400 signatures.