Police probe still on; ex-parte stay against sexual harassment panel report and court permission to enter premises help NGO chief
R K Pachauri, accused of sexual harassment by an employee working under him in The Energy and Resources Institute, has taken back charge as director-general of the environmental non-government organsation, even as the police investigation in the matter continues and cases are being tried in the court.
Pachauri took over active role as the head of the institution after he secured an order from a local court permitting him to physically attend all offices of Teri except two -- the head office and the one in Gurgaon. He had previously secured another order from the industrial tribunal staying the implementation of the Internal Complaints Committee, which had found him guilty of misconduct and misuse of his authority.
Business Standard reviewed the minutes of the meeting of the committee of directors of Teri held on Friday -- the day the local court passed its order -- when Pachauri took back the post as the head of the institution. The minutes read: “The DG (Pachauri) chaired the meeting. The committee of directors extended a very warm welcome to the DG. The DG thanked Leena Srivastava for her stewardship of the institute in the period of his absence.”
On queries sent to Pachauri, his lawyer Ashish Dixit responded by saying, “Pachauri did not require re-appointment, because all this period he has been the director general of Teri and on leave in that position.”
Srivastava, who was acting as the director general at the NGO, was made a “distinguished fellow” after Pachauri’s return. An email sent by Pachauri to employees of the organisation previewed by Business Standard confirms this. Before she took over the role of DG, Srivastava was the executive director of the group as well as vice-chancellor of the Teri University.
While Srivastava did not respond to emailed queries about the reason for her taking over a lesser role at the NGO and if she was asked to step down, Pachauri’s lawyer said, “Leena Srivastava was the acting director-general, a title which clearly indicates a temporary arrangement. Distinguished Fellows at Teri are persons of the rank of secretary of the government of India. This is a prestigious position in the Teri organisation.”
When asked if Pachauri found it appropriate to take over the role of DG at a time when the Committee had indicted him on some charges and police investigations were still continuing, his lawyer responded, “There is a stay order on the report of the internal complaints committee and, therefore, its findings should not affect the activities or positions in Teri.”
His lawyer was referring to the ex-parte order Pachauri secured from the industrial labour tribunal staying implementation of the report of the committee. The committee, under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, had found him guilty of misusing his position in the organisation and violating the organisation’s policy on sexual harassment. It had made several recommendations for remediation.
But Pachauri appealed to an industrial dispute tribunal claiming the 90-day long investigation by the committee, comprising select Teri employees and an outside expert, had not followed the principle of natural justice in carrying out their inquiries and should be set aside. The panel members had laid out specifically in the report how the principles of natural justice were followed in conducting the inquiry as per statutory requirements. But, the tribunal, in an ex-parte order stayed the recommendations of the report, while it continues to hear the matter. The tribunal has not passed a verdict on the contents of the panel's report. The next date for hearing on the matter is slated for September.
Pachauri has also secured an order from the local court permitting him physical entry in the premises of Teri. The orders did not pertain to what role he could or could not play at the organisation.
Prashant Mendiratta, the senior lawyer representing the woman who has complained of sexual harassment, speaking to Business Standard said, “The orders were passed ex-parte. We got the orders only towards the end of June. Even as the investigations against him are still underway and witnesses have to be examined, he has now reinstated himself in a fiduciary position at Teri. He is not just another employee of the organisation but the head of the organisation. We shall appeal against the decision.”
“The DG stressed that we have to face challenges together while charting out a future course of action, for which he requested senior colleagues to motivate and inspire those colleagues who are working with them,” the minutes read.
The governing council of Teri, which has eight independent members on board, including Deepak Parekh, Naina Lal Kidwai, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Hemendra Kothari and Earth Sciences Secretary Shailesh Naik, is to meet on Thursday. Business Standard was able to email queries to four of the eight, asking if his return had their approval but none of them responded by the time of going to press.