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TERI vs Sexual Harassment!

Published on Fri, Feb 19,2016 | 23:09, Updated at Mon, Feb 22 at 17:16Source : CNBC-TV18 |   Watch Video :

On 18th Feb, 2015, a 29 year old researcher accused Dr. R K Pachauri, then Director General of The Energy Research Institute – TERI of sexually harassing her since 2013. The 74 year old Pachauri denied the charge but stepped down as DG and went on leave. An Internal Complaints Committee at TERI investigated the matter and filed a report. Mr Pachauri secured anticipatory bail and also appealed to an Industrial Tribunal in Delhi to stay the ICC report. The Tribunal granted a stay on grounds that principles of natural justice were not followed. Meanwhile, the police investigation continued.

In November 2015 the complainant resigned from TERI citing mistreatment. This month, Dr. Pachauri was promoted to Executive Vice Chairman, a post specifically created for him by TERI’s Governing Council. Soon after, another complainant, a former TERI employee, also accused Mr. Pachauri of sexual harassment.

By law, every organization with 10 or more workers should have an Internal Complaints Committee to investigate sexual harassment cases. The report filed by TERI’s Internal Complaints Committee is a confidential document, as required by the law. So, its findings are not public. Did it find RK Pachauri guilty? If not, why did he ask the industrial tribunal to stay it? And if it did find him guilty, then why has TERI’s Governing Council not taken any action against Pachauri? That’s the question leading lawyer Indira Jaising has asked in her writ petition…

Indira Jaising was the first woman to be appointed Additional Solicitor General of India. She’s a reputed Supreme Court lawyer and on behalf of the complainant she has filed a writ petition at the Delhi High Court. The petition accuses TERI of ‘brazenly supporting’ Pachauri and believes that the provisions of the Sexual Harassment law have been violated in this case…

Indira Jaising
Senior Advocate, Supreme Court
Former ASG of India
Has Filed A Writ Petition For Complainant

“When it comes to TERI, it’s no different than any other organization like a Public Ltd Company or a Private Ltd co or an NGO or a society or a trust. They are all governed by Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment Act. NGOs are governed as well, societies too. Firstly, you must understand the Act applies to them. Secondly, it applies to everybody right from the MD down to the most junior employee whether it’s a peon or typist, it applies to everyone equally. Now, when I say there was a fundamental breach, it is the Supreme Court which has said and this is captured in the Act as well, that sexual harassment must be made an act of misconduct in all these organizations. So, the first fundamental breach I see with TERI is it has not been made an Act of misconduct under any rules or regulations framed by TERI nor would you find it in the contract of employment, say with Pachauri. Surely, there has to be a contract with him, I’d like to know whether the contract does contain a clause that any act of sexual harassment would constitute misconduct! So, what is the consequence of this failure to treat it as an act of misconduct? The consequence is due process of law gets undermined, no charges are framed, no chargesheet is given to him, no suspension!”

The complainant’s lawyer Prashant Mendiratta details instances of how TERI has allegedly blocked the investigation.

Prashant Mendiratta
Advocate, New Delhi
Lawyer For The Complainant

“There has been breach of the Sexual Harassment Act, the Vishakha guidelines have not been followed which were there before the act and of course the criminal case, what has happened here is that TERI has refused access to the Delhi Police to its internal server. Now, the case of our complainant is that she was sexually harassed – physically, by words, by action and through SMS as well as emails. Some of those emails could have been on the internal server. The internal email id reads teri.res.in. So now, the Delhi Police wanted access to the internal server, it made an application to Teri, that allow us to have access to the internal server and the best part is Teri refused that particular part which is extremely sad and Delhi Police has given a complaint and has given in a status report that one of the grounds they want cancellation of anticipatory bail is that the access to internal server has not been given by them.”

Both lawyers representing the complainant say they’ve been unable to obtain a copy of TERI’s service rules. The law requires every organization to have service rules…including rules on how sexual harassment cases would be dealt with.  

Indira Jaising
Senior Advocate, Supreme Court
Former ASG of India
Has Filed A Writ Petition For Complainant

“Could we please be informed by the GC whether they have service rules in place dealing with sexual harassment or making it an act of misconduct? I have not seen any all over.”

Anita Ramachandran
Founder & Director, Cerebrus Consultants
HR Consultant

“I think today it’s very rare to find an organization not mentioning sexual harassment because the Act requires it! So, it would be there in some form or the other as a code of conduct or rules? I’d think today if you don’t have them, then that’s a violation of the Act, isn’t it?”

The complainant’s lawyers accuse TERI and its Governing Council of not taking sexual harassment allegations seriously. That puts the spotlight on the GC and its many illustrious members such as Deepak Parekh, Hemendra Kothari, Naina Lal Kidwai and also a former government secretary. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw stepped down recently. The bigger question this story raises is how an organization deals with sexual harassment accusations when they are against the top boss?

TERI or The Energy Resources Institute is a registered society established in 1974. It receives substantial funding from the Government of India and has also advised the government on key policy issues relating to climate change. Lawyers say that it’s TERI’s management structure that seems to be at the root of the problem…

Indira Jaising
Senior Advocate, Supreme Court
Former ASG of India
Has Filed A Writ Petition For Complainant

“If you see the deed of trusts, initially this was a trust which was founded by the Tatas and very eminent people were trustees including Mr. Tata himself and Nani Palkivala. Now, it is this trust which then comes to be taken over by another group of trustees in which Pachauri himself is a trustee and many others I think including Ajay Mathur. So, when I say there is a problem with the structure with the trust deed, what I mean is suddenly people like Mr. Pachauri and Mathur come to occupy a duality of positions- they are trustees on the governing board and they are also performing services for the organization. Now, in a situation like this it generates lack of accountability because who are you accountable to?”

The Sexual Harassment Act of 2013 has that covered as well. Under Section 6, if the complaint is against the boss himself, then the complainant can approach the district’s Local Complaints Committee instead. This committee has to be set up by the District Officer. But, in this case, the victim didn’t have such an option since the government hasn’t set one up yet.

So, the complainant turned to TERI’s ICC instead. The ICC is empowered by law to grant certain reliefs to a complainant during the pendency of an inquiry. But, again the lawyers in this case say the complainant was denied adequate interim relief…

Prashant Mendiratta
Advocate, New Delhi
Lawyer For The Complainant

“While the complaint was pending with the ICC, while it was being investigated for those 90 days, we did seek further interim relief. So, the first one was to allow me to work from home, that was for the first 3 months, for the next 2 months I kept asking allow me to work from home, they did not allow me that, they did not pay any salary after my 5th month so I was without salary for the rest of the months till the time I was compelled to resign. So, when you stop the bread and butter, that’s when you get the person most!”

Veena Gowda
Women’s Rights Lawyer & Activist

“A very important power given to the ICC is what it can do during the interim period or during proceedings. So, as soon as the complaint is filed, the ICC has the authority to pass certain orders in order to ensure that the complainant is protected! That she feels safe because the entire purpose of the Act is to ensure a safe working place for women. So, therefore if she files a complaint especially in a case like this against your top boss, it’s not easy at all. I mean expecting her to come back to the same place to work or working in the same place is not what the act envisages.”

While the complainant felt isolated,  RK Pachauri traveled the world in his capacity as TERI’s boss. Recently, he was promoted to Executive Vice Chairman, a post the GC created especially for him. When she heard of the promotion, the complainant said in an open letter: “The news of promotion of a man who stands booked on charges of sexual harassment at a workplace, stalking and criminal intimidation by the country’s who’s who makes my flesh crawl.”

Prashant Mendiratta
Advocate, New Delhi
Lawyer For The Complainant

“Our complainant not only feels let down by TERI, but definitely by the Governing Council of TERI. These are persons who have reached the pinnacles of their fields and these persons did not even dare to issue a statement to our client saying that they are absolutely with her and that she should not fear. Here was a girl who lodged a complaint against a person who was holding the highest post in the organization. She went on leave for those 3 months as provided under the Sexual Harassment Act. Another 2 months they allowed her to continue to be on leave because they did not allow her to come back to the head office where the Sexual Harassment had taken place. All of a sudden, they started telling her that go and please join another office and for all of a sudden now after 2 years or 2 and a half years of she having worked with Teri they realize that other office is near her house. So, unfortunately Governing Council should have come up and said something, should have given her some sort of confidence and should have given the other women in the organization some confidence.”
 
Veena Gowda
Women’s Rights Lawyer & Activist

“It’s rather unfortunate we see in a lot of companies if there are certain complaints filed by the employees of the lower rung, where the allegations are not as grave, you’ll immediately see the employers saying that there is zero tolerance to sexual harassment at the workplace, we will terminate the guy, there is no need for an enquiry and we say no, you have to follow due process of law and punishment has to be proportionate to the allegations. But all that kind of falters when the allegations are made against the top bosses and that is where the true test of the law actually comes in and yes, the GC ought to have been a little more vocal and fair.”

Anita Ramachandran
Founder & Director, Cerebrus Consultants
HR Consultant

“I don’t think we should have considered him being in any position in the company after something like this has happened and it has been through a prolonged period because I think the whole institution has really gone into disrepute because of the actions of just one individual.”

Recently, another former TERI employee has also accused Pachauri of sexual harassment. Media reports suggest that a male researcher quit TERI because he was pressured to convince his colleague to settle the matter. Despite all this, TERI’s Governing Council has maintained silence… absolute silence for one whole year!

In Mumbai, Aayush Ailawadi
 
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