pachauri_304024fPachauri’s promotion will set a dangerous trend

Teri’s has sent out the message that sexual harassment at workplace need not be taken seriously

The recent promotion of The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) Director-General R K Pachauri to vice-chairman is a travesty of corporate governance and ethics – and defies logic, too. Mr Pachauri was asked to step aside as director-general of the environmental think tank following sexual harassment charges brought against him by a subordinate researcher. Teri’s internal complaints committee (ICC) found merit in her complaint and recommended she be paid compensation and some disciplinary action be taken against Mr Pachauri. The appointment of the director-general of Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), Ajay Mathur, to succeed Mr Pachauri as Teri’s director-general was a step in that direction. If that is the case, it is hard to see how a disciplinary action has morphed, just eight months later, into a promotion. More so when the complainant resigned citing isolation at work following her complaint and is suffering the loss of income and livelihood as a result – even as Mr Pachauri continued in his former role pending the entry of Mr Mathur, who was serving notice at BEE.

It should, of course, be emphasised that in promoting Mr Pachauri, the governing council may have acted well within the ambit of the law. He is yet to be found guilty by the court of law, where the case is being heard. It is also true that the appellate tribunal stayed the ICC reports after admitting an appeal he filed quashing the ICC’s report on the technical ground of not following the principles of natural justice and preventing Mr Pachauri from sufficiently defending himself. The tribunal also stayed any action that could have stemmed from ICC’s investigation. If the governing council were to follow the letter of this ruling and/or felt strongly about Mr Pachauri’s innocence, it could have reinstated him as director-general in that case. As it is, appointing a successor for Mr Pachauri at Teri and then promoting him suggest a baffling contrariness.

But, even if it were argued that the governing council were acting strictly within the law, there is also a question of organisational ethics – which is surely also the governing council’s responsibility. By choosing to override, as it clearly has done, the victim’s complaint and the ICC’s findings, it has sent out the signal that sexual harassment in the workplace need not be taken seriously. This is a disturbing development because this is a high-profile case that will, in many ways, set the tone for handling such cases in corporate India going forward. More so because Teri’s governing council comprises some of the most stellar and influential names in the corporate world. In the case of Teri, at least, they have failed in their duties as upholders of the principles of corporate governance. The cause of gender equity in the workplace just took one step back.