FACING MOUNTING criticism, R K Pachauri went on indefinite leave from TERI and its Governing Council on Friday, just three days after he was elevated to the position of Executive Vice Chairman at the think tank.
TERI appointed former finance secretary Ashok Chawla as the new chairperson, replacing noted scientist B V Sreekantan. TERI’s executive powers have been vested in Ajay Mathur, its new director general who assumed charge on February 8.
The decisions were announced on Friday after TERI’s highest decision-making body, the Governing Council, met for the second time this week amid public outrage over Pachauri’s promotion. While the think tank’s press statement did not clarify if Pachauri volunteered to go on leave, sources said the Council meeting was “difficult” and lasted for close to three hours even as representatives of women’s rights organisations protested outside the TERI office.
Pachauri could not be reached for comment.
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TERI’s press statement made no direct reference to the sexual harassment allegations against Pachauri. It just stated that he will be on leave till the decision is reviewed by the Council “given the sub judice nature of the matter”.
When contacted, Chawla, till recently chairperson of the Competition Commission, told The Indian Express that some members of TERI’s Governing Council had asked him to accept the responsibility.
Asked if his appointment was aimed at sending the signal that Pachauri’s reign had finally ended, Chawla sad, “I don’t know. I think the Governing Council might have felt that a new face was required to steer the institute away from the limelight since it was in the news, mainly for the wrong reasons. Even the director general is a new person.”
Sources said the development was prompted by the public backlash against the decision to appoint Pachauri as the Executive Vice Chairman. The environmentalist is accused of sexually harassing a junior colleague, who quit the think tank last year. He is currently out on bail. As outrage mounted over his promotion this week, another former TERI employee stepped forward on Wednesday to level similar allegations.
Accused of letting down its female employees, the Council, in its statement, said: “TERI is a unique organisation with a global presence, and a staff strength of 1,200 people, of which over 33 per cent are women. At the highest echelons of the institute, 14 of the 30 directors are women. The Governing Council of TERI supports the rights of women and has consistently ensured the provision of a secure environment and a safe work place for its employees.”
Meanwhile, the complainant who accused Pachauri of sexual harassment told The Indian Express that she was disappointed with the Council’s response. “The TERI press release does not focus on the current allegations or the FIR. It instead discusses TERI’s internal operations. It says that TERI supports the rights of women, yet I was impacted significantly,” she said.
“TERI says it has ensured a secure working environment. The Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) was intimidated and subjected to hostility, including late night visits to their homes by TERI staff. ICC had to move the Ministry of Women and Child Development to safeguard their interests. What did TERI do to protect its ICC employees? No ‘emergency’ GC meeting was convened then. Now, a researcher is allegedly under pressure to get the matter settled. What about the stay on the ICC report? What has TERI done to challenge that? I had to get my counsel to do so, whereas it is in the mandate of the organisation to assist and help me in such matters,” she said.
“It is extremely sad and regrettable that it took massive public and media outrage for the TERI Council to speak out on the issue,” she said.
TERI University’s Board of Management also met on Friday and decided that Vice Chancellor Leena Srivastav would ask the Governing Council to appoint an interim chancellor till Pachauri rejoins. Pachauri has been on leave from TERI University since Thursday, after a group of students refused to accept their degrees from him at the convocation scheduled on March 7.