New Delhi: On Monday, R.K. Pachauri was appointed executive vice-chairman of The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri). A year ago, he was ousted as director general of the same organization on a complaint of sexual harassment by a woman colleague. So, is his appointment compliant with laws against sexual harassment? Not at all is the consensus view among advocates and consultants. But more on that later. First, a rundown on the events since February 2015.
A colleague—she has since left Teri—accused Pachauri of sexual harassment and criminal intimidation on 18 February 2015. He proceeded on leave even as the non-profit, among the best known in the environment space, set up an internal committee to investigate the charges against the director general.
The committee found him guilty of misconduct in May. Following this, Pachauri moved the Delhi high court, which stayed Teri from acting on the committee’s report. In July, he returned to work but simultaneously, Ajay Mathur, former director general of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, under the ministry of power, was appointed director general of Teri.
Meanwhile, some members of the Teri governing council such as Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairman and managing director of Biocon Ltd, resigned citing differences with the management of the organization. An internal e-mail circulated to Teri employees on Monday stated, “This is to inform that Dr. Ajay Mathur has joined as director general of Teri from today. The governing council of Teri has appointed Dr. R.K. Pachauri as the executive vice-chairman with immediate effect." The post of executive vice-chairman was created recently and Pachauri will be the first to hold it.
“This move is a clear violation of every provision of the anti-sexual harassment laws of the country in letter and spirit," said Vrinda Grover, a senior human rights advocate who has contributed to the drafting of the 2013 Criminal Law Amendment to the law against sexual assault.
Along with the many women’s rights’ activists who pushed for the establishment of the Vishaka Guidelines promulgated by the Supreme Court in 1997, Grover is appalled at the unabashed impunity shown in this matter as is Gautam Vohra, chairperson, Credibility Alliance, an association of non-profits working for good governance practices.
“The management has been hasty in appointing Pachauri to a position of power before his name has been cleared," Vohra said, adding that “credibility of an organization depends on its integrity. This move puts a stain on that."
“The Teri governing council has failed to provide justice for the complainant and should be held accountable as well," said Indira Jaising, a senior rights advocate and founder secretary of advocacy group Lawyers Collective. On Tuesday, the complainant released an open letter to the Teri management. The letter holds the governing council accountable and states: “Matters have gone from bad to worse. The governing council at Teri gave priority to discuss matters related to Pachauri who is accused of sexual harassment but could not find time to address my complaint...
“They have tried to get colleagues at Teri to convince me to settle the matter out of court but I have clearly denied doing so."
The Vishaka guidelines were brought in to address sexual harassment at the workplace and required all government, non-government and private sector entities to establish internal mechanisms and redressal systems to address sexual harassment. These were superseded by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) Act, 2013.
“As per the law, Pachauri is not permitted on the premises where a sexual harassment allegation has been made against him. But here we see he has been not only been permitted on the premises but also put in a position of power—giving out the clear signal that Teri condones sexual harassment and there is no recourse for the complainant," Grover said.
Even though some experts say that the matter is sub judice and hence Pachauri’s guilt is yet to be established, many believe that his appointment as the executive vice-chairman of Teri is a violation.
Parul Soni, global managing partner at Thinkthrough Consulting, said this incident highlights the double standards of the voluntary/not-for-profit sector. “On the one side, the not-for-profit sector is pushing for accountability from the government, the private sector and everybody under the sun; on the other, it is not following the laws equally applicable to it as to every other citizen of the country." Specializing in consulting with the not-for-profit sector, Soni is of the view that even if Pachauri has not yet been found guilty, “he should not have accepted the position being accorded by the management because it is his moral responsibility to not do so".
By way of recourse, Jaising said, either a third-party public interest litigation can be filed in court against the appointment or the complainant can challenge the appointment but “first the government ought to take cognizance and intervene because the implementation of the sexual harassment law is monitored by the ministry of women and child development". Since Teri is a society registered under the 1860 Societies Registration Act and has been accorded deemed university status by the University Grants Commission, the government has the authority to intervene, Grover explained.
Pachauri was also the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2007 along with former US vice-president Al Gore. Pachauri resigned from the post of IPCC chairman in February 2015 in the wake of the sexual harassment case.
Priyanka Mittal contributed to this story.