Pachauri’s continued presence at TERI is a breach of the law, say senior lawyers

Pachauri’s continued presence at TERI is a breach of the law, say senior lawyers
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A day after RK Pachauri was appointed executive vice chairman of The Energy Research Institute on Monday, senior lawyers accused the organisation of a “fundamental breach of the law”. Last year, a 29-year-old female employee at TERI had complained of sexual harassment by Pachauri and filed an FIR against him, forcing him to go on leave for a few months. The complainant has since resigned, but Pachauri returns to a post especially created for him. He is yet to be cleared of the charges.

“When the report holding his guilty of sexual harassment was made in accordance with law, he should have been suspended immediately,” said Indira Jaising, senior advocate and former additional solicitor general of India. After an internal complaints committee of TERI had found Pachauri guilty of misconduct, he had gone to a labour court and got a stay on the recommendations of the committee. Not suspending Pachauri, said Jaising, had enabled him to get a stay from the court and continue in his position.

“The fatal error made by the TERI governing council is that they have not approached the court and asked for the lifting of the stay,” added Jaising. The 10-member council includes HDFC chief Deepak Parekh, former head of HSBC India Naina Lal Kidwai and chairman of DSP Blackrock Investment Managers Hemendra Kothari.

“In any event, even if the findings of the committee were stayed, the board had and has the power to suspend him,” Jaising said. “They only protected him. This very protection of Pachauri undermines the very basis of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, which provides that in any complaint against an employee, the management is supposed to support the complainant through the process of inquiry and take action against the employee.”

Human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover noted that the governing council did not even recognise the sexual harassment complaint against Pachauri. Last July, the council had announced that Ajay Mathur would succeed Pachauri as director general of TERI. “They said Mathur would take up his responsibilities when he was in a position to do so and they had generally been in the process of looking for a head,” said Grover.

Grover said she and Jaising had written to the governing council, but had not received any response.

Police apathy

Grover accused both the governing council and the police of extending “protection and patronage” to Pachauri. Last year, after the charges against Pachauri became public, two other women had approached Grover, complaining of similar experiences.

“I met the deputy commissioner of police (south) and the Delhi commissioner of police,” said Grover. “I said these women should be heard out since there was a pattern to these offences. The women only wanted their identities to be kept confidential, which is not against the law. Till date, nobody has taken these women’s statement.” Grover also said that her emails and messages to both Prem Nath, the DCP, and Commissioner BS Bassi had gone unanswered.

“And it is more than a year since the FIR was filed but the police are yet to make a chargesheet against Pachauri,” said Grover. “This sends out the signal to all the men and women employed in TERI that even if a person in power commits a grievous sexual offence, there will be no consequences. And it sends out a signal to all those women who have the audacity to file an FIR. The Delhi Police will first look at the economic status of the accused. If he is an auto driver or a rickshaw puller, they will take action and people will be baying for his blood. If it is a powerful person then the entire system will close ranks to protect him.”

Grover felt the courts as well as the human resources development ministry should step in since “all internal mechanisms have collapsed”. Jaising called for the government to withdraw funds to TERI.

DCP Nath could not be reached for comment on Tuesday evening. Scroll.in has contacted several members of the governing council for their views on the matter. A response is awaited.

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