R.K. Pachauri out of TERI, Ajay Mathur to take charge3 min read . Updated: 23 Jul 2015, 09:19 PM IST
TERI did not say why Pachauri was replaced but says the succession issue was discussed first in September 2014
New Delhi: Nothing could eventually save R.K. Pachauri’s job—not a lower court order permitting him to attend TERI offices, barring the head office and a Gurgaon branch, nor a challenge to an internal complaints committee (ICC) probe that found him guilty of sexual harassment.
On Thursday, TERI issued a press release confirming the removal of its director-general who has been in the eye of a storm ever since a researcher levelled charges of sexual harassment, assault, stalking and intimidation against Pachauri in February.
The press release does not mention why TERI’s governing council chose to replace Pachauri with Ajay Mathur, currently director general of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, but it says that the issue of leadership succession was first discussed by the governing council as far back as September 2014. It also praises Pachauri for leading and building TERI into a “major, financially autonomous professionally dynamic organization on the global stage".
In early February, the 29-year-old researcher complained to TERI’s ICC about sexual harassment by the 74-year-old scientist. A few days later, on 18 February, she also lodged a complaint with the police alleging assault, sexual harassment, stalking and criminal intimidation that led to Pachauri’s resignation less than a week later as chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But at TERI, Pachauri was permitted to go on leave pending an internal investigation.
On 19 May, that investigation submitted a 33-page report which upheld the researcher’s complaints of sexual harassment by Pachauri. Claiming that he had been denied the principles of natural justice, Pachauri asked the Industrial Labour Tribunal for a stay on the findings.
The four-member ICC, including three TERI employees and one external member, examined 30 witnesses who deposed for Pachauri as well as 19 witnesses for the researcher before concluding that the researcher’s complaint was valid, people familiar with the findings of the panel said.
It recommended disciplinary action against Pachauri as well as financial compensation for the loss in career and health to the researcher. It also recommended that TERI take any other action as per its service rules, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In its report, ICC mentions that it has been subject to a hostile environment with pressure and intimidation from “certain individuals within the organization". Sonal Mattoo, a lawyer with a non-governmental organization and the sole non-TERI member of the committee, said she was “barred from discussing the report".
The 10-member governing council has come in for a fair amount of public criticism for its refusal to take a stand, despite such damning evidence against Pachauri by his organization’s own probe. In February, a group of lawyers and activists, including advocates Indira Jaising and Vrinda Grover, former Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed and NGO Jagori director Suneeta Dhar had written to the council asking for Pachauri to be suspended pending the enquiry.
Even after the ICC submitted its report in May, members of TERI’s 10-member governing council, which had the power to terminate Pachauri’s employment and include corporate women leaders such as Naina Lal Kidwai, the country head of HSBC Holdings Plc., and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the chairperson and managing director of Biocon Ltd, seemed loath to act.
They eventually did on 23 July.
Welcoming Pachauri’s removal, the researcher’s lawyer, Prashant Mehndiratta said the criminal charges filed by his client against Pachauri stand and the police is still conducting its investigation. He added that a petition seeking the cancellation of Pachauri’s anticipatory bail also stands.
But, he said, “Now that he has been removed from TERI, witnesses will be able to depose freely and my client is assured a fair investigation."
“There is a strange hierarchy in the minds of Indian men," Mehndiratta said. “We are outraged when sexual assault leads to grievous injuries on the victim, but if there are no signs of physical injury, then we treat offences of sexual assault with kid gloves."
Meanwhile, for the researcher, Pachauri’s removal might have come as a personal acquittal, but her legal battle is far from over. “So far, I have fought alone, but I have no plans of giving up my fight," she said in an interview.