The Energy and Resources Institute’s governing council on Friday asked its executive vice-chairman RK Pachauri to go on leave in the face of protests against his elevation despite being accused of sexual harassment.
The environmental think tank handed over all executive powers to its new director, General Ajay Mathur, and also named ex-finance secretary and former Competition Commission of India chairman Ashok Chawla as its new chairman.
Sources within TERI indicated this could be the end for Pachauri at the institute he headed since 1982, considering the governing council will now take a call on whether the 75-year-old can return to TERI at all. Most of Pachauri’s supporters are out of the council and his contract with TERI ends later this year.
“Pachauri will be on leave from TERI, TERI governing council and TERI University till this is reviewed by the governing council, given the sub judice nature of the matter,” the council said in a statement after a two-hour meeting.
Pachauri was promoted on February 8 — a move a former colleague who has accused him of sexual harassment said made her “skin crawl”. The 29-year-old former TERI researcher had lodged a case against Pachauri with the Delhi Police last February.
Two days later on Wednesday, another ex-colleague accused Pachauri of sexually harassing her and other women in her presence. The woman had quit TERI in 2003 and first made the allegation against Pachauri last year.
She claimed the police had failed to act on her complaint.
Activists and protesters gathered outside the TERI office on Friday seeking Pachauri’s sacking.
The outrage has, in fact, been building since January when a researcher, Rahul Singh, accused a top TERI functionary of pressuring him to ask the first complainant to withdraw her case.
The police corroborated this on Thursday when it told the Delhi high court that a TERI director had admitted to speaking to Singh about an out-of-court settlement. The police said they would be filing a charge sheet against Pachauri within 15 days.
After the case was filed last year, Pachauri had quit the intergovernmental panel on climate change that he headed for over a decade and was asked to leave the PM’s Council on Climate Change.
But he remained in control at TERI as its director-general even as the investigation continued, a TERI spokesperson told HT earlier.
That changed Friday as the governing council laid out its future leadership plan with Mathur given full executive powers and Chawla entrusted with the role of guiding the institute’s 1,200 employees worldwide.
Chawla later announced that TERI would get an external ombudsman to address employees’ complaints regarding internal processes.
“The governing council supports the rights of women and has consistently ensured the provision of a secure environment and safe work place for its employees,” the statement read.