TERI Governing Council To Say Its Hands Are Tied Due To Judicial Directions

22/07/2015 10:37 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Director General of the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) R.K. Pachauri addresses mediapersons in New Delhi on January 23, 2010. The head of the UN's climate science panel said January 23 that a doomsday prediction about the fate of Himalayan glaciers was 'a regrettable error.' Pachauri, chairman of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in an emailed statement to media outlets that the mistake arose out of 'established procedures not being diligently followed.' AFP PHOTO/ MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- The governing council of The Energy And Resources Institute, the influential think-tank headed by Rajendra Pachauri, will make a statement Thursday about sexual harassment charges faced by the director general, a person familiar with the development told HuffPost India.

The panel, the foremost decision maker in the institute's affairs, will likely say that it is unable to act against the scientist due to a stay by a court on the recommendations of an internal committee that found Pachauri guilty, the person said.

TERI's internal complaints committee submitted its report on 19 May, pronouncing Pachauri guilty of misconduct and in violation of the organisation's policy on the sexual harassment. The complainant, a 29-year-old researcher who worked in his office, had accused him of sexual harassment over a long period of time. According to multiple people with access to the document, the committee recommended action against him and that the complainant be compensated.

Pachauri went to labour court and obtained an ex-parte stay (meaning without the representation of other parties involved before the judicial forum) on the operation of the recommendations. This was done on 29 May.

"Why did the governing council not act during those ten days? I'm really disappointed with the way they have dealt with this case. The way things have panned out, it is as if they are dealing with a burden, when they should have acted proactively to support me and make sure the organisation acted in a neutral manner," the complainant told HuffPost India. "I did not even receive an acknowledgement for the letter I wrote to them on 3 April," she added.

The Delhi Police registered an FIR in the case on 18 April. Last Friday, a Delhi court relaxed Pachauri's bail conditions and allowed him to visit TERI's office premises except in Delhi and Gurgaon. When the complaint was made earlier, he had proceeded on leave, and was not suspended.

Former attorney general of India, Indira Jaisingh, who is advising the complainant, told HuffPost India that the failure of the governing council of TERI was "monumental".

"In my entire career as a lawyer, I have not seen a greater failure of management than the failure of the governing board of TERI. This is the board comprising the honchos of corporate India, including the superwomen of corporate India. Instead of suspending him pending enquiry, they allowed him to go on voluntary leave. It is a fundamental principle of law that if the head of an organisation is under enquiry, he needs to not be around, for a free and fair investigation to be made possible," she said.

The TERI governing council comprises of 10 members, including Pachauri. HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh, HSBC India country head Naina Lal Kidwai and Biocon chairperson Kiran Mazumdar Shaw are among the rest. Parekh and Shaw declined comment. Kidwai could not be reached. Chairman B.V. Sreekantan also could not be reached.

Pachauri stepped down as the chairman of the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change, but did not step down from TERI or as chancellor of TERI University when the scandal broke. The IPCC won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, making Pachauri a globally recognized figure in climate change.

Pachauri was able to get an ex-parte order on the report from the Industrial Labour Tribunal, alleging that the 90-days long investigation did not follow the principle of natural justice. While the tribunal is yet to give a verdict on the matter, this has effectively stayed the recommendations made by the internal committee, and the next hearing is in September.

Now he has been allowed back at work, even as the stalwarts of corporate India who sit on TERI's governing council are yet to speak about the incident or its aftermath.

Noted human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover said the governing council need not be detained by the tribunal's stay order. "That doesn't mean they can't remove him from the post. It's absolutely scandalous that they haven't done anything. They are sending out a message that sexual harassment is not taken seriously. There should be strong public demand to make the GC accountable," she said.

While the members of the governing council are yet to take a stand in the case, upset employees of TERI have decided to write to the council, to communicate their unhappiness with Pachauri's return.

The public, too, have asked the governing council to intervene. An online petition calling for Pachauri's removal as TERI head until the court gives a decision on the sexual harassment case against him has so far reached over 400 signatories.

All eyes are now on the council and what it will say on Thursday. If it hides behind the stay order of the labour court, it will likely come under further public scrutiny.

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