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Petitioner as well as respondent: the curious case of RK Pachauri

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 4:21 IST

The case

  • An internal committee found TERI DG RK Pachauri guilty of sexually harassing a colleague
  • Pachauri filed a petition against the committee\'s decision in a Delhi court and even got a stay order on the internal committee report.
  • The court had sought responses from all respondents, including the Union govt
  • The govt failed to file a response in time, so the court postponed the hearing to 17 October

The irony

  • Pachauri has filed the petition on the grounds that the committee didn\'t follow procedures
  • He contends the guilty verdict and its legality
  • Pachauri has since returned to the posts of DG and chancellor of TERI University
  • Ironically, he is the petitioner and a respondent (as DG, TERI) in the same case

The Karkardooma district court complex in east Delhi houses 80 courtrooms, which look into matters ranging from petty crimes and murders, to motor accident claims and government labour disputes.

A courtroom in the corner of this complex is now a crucial battleground for the high-profile sexual harassment case against RK Pachauri, director general of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

The Delhi state industrial tribunal is where Pachauri is fighting to overturn the verdict of TERI's internal complaints committee, which held him guilty of sexual harassing a 29-year-old researcher working in his office.

Matter postponed

This is the only guilty verdict against Pachauri so far. Its legality is being argued before the tribunal and Pachauri is fighting hard. After hearing his case for three days, the tribunal, on 29 May, stayed the committee's verdict in an ex-parte order; i.e. the hearing did not include the opposing parties.

It had asked all parties to present their arguments today, 9 September. But it has now posted the matter for 17 October as the Union government has not filed its response. The government is a respondent as it is supposed to oversee the implementation of the law under which the complaint was filed - Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

Additionally, the complainant has filed an application questioning the jurisdiction of the tribunal over the committee's report. This will also be decided in the hearing set for 17 October.

Meanwhile, the police investigation into the case hasn't yielded any conclusion. In the meantime, Pachauri has returned to head the organisation as its director general, and the TERI University as its chancellor.

Numerous cases

The case before the tribunal is one among the many cases being fought between Pachauri and the complainant. On 30 September, the Delhi High Court will hear a petition from the complainant to revoke Pachauri's bail application.

On 7 September, a fresh case was filed before the Delhi High Court against TERI for not taking action against Pachauri on the grounds of "misconduct". Section 19 (i) of the Act makes it necessary for the employer to initiate action, under the company's service rules, against the employee for misconduct.

The court is hearing a plea filed by TERI DG Pachauri after an internal committee found him guilty

In fact, many questions were raised over why TERI has not filed an appeal against the tribunal's stay order against the committee's verdict. With Pachauri back at the helm in TERI, this seems unlikely.

After increasing pressure to take action gains Pachauri, the governing council of TERI (its highest decision-making body) had, on 23 July, announced that Pachauri will be replaced by Ajay Mathur, currently chief of the Union government's Bureau of Energy Efficiency. But as Mathur is still serving his notice period at BEE, Pachauri has continued as the TERI chief.

Arguing from both sides

This has led to an awkward position in the case before the tribunal. Pachauri had filed the case before returning to TERI as its DG. While he is the petitioner, he is now also on the "other side", as TERI is one of the respondents in the case. The complainant is the third respondent.

Interestingly, TERI's response filed before the tribunal is that its committee functioned as per law.

Outside the tribunal's courtroom, Pachauri's public relations firm Lexicon distributed a press note calling the committee's investigation "seriously flawed". The statement claims Pachauri is being made "an easy target of vilification campaign" through, among other things, "select and illegal media leaks". "We want a neutral fact finding and discovery of truth," the statement said.

The question of chancellorship

Even as the multiple cases are being heard, Pachauri's return has made several staffers uncomfortable. Ever since he returned to head TERI, both the complainant and a member of the internal complaints committee have been on leave.

Pachauri's return has also rekindled questions about his continuation as chancellor of the TERI University. None of the current proceedings against him have any direct bearing on his chancellorship. Many persons believe that he will not let go of this position.

While it is generally expected that Ajay Mathur will also take over as the next chancellor, the logic is not so straightforward. Since it is a deemed university, government rules do not allow the chancellor's position to be ex-officio any other position. This means that one cannot be TERI University's chancellor simply by virtue of being TERI's director general.

If Pachauri is proven guilty, he may not be eligible to be chancellor on the grounds of not qualifying as an 'eminent educationist'. But even if this happens, he may still hold on to his other position as a professor in the university's department of policy studies.

Since his return to TERI, Pachauri has reportedly shown interest in continuing his academic engagements there and has visited the campus on at least two occasions in the last two months. In August, he also visited Guwahati in connection with opening a new campus for the university there.

First published: 10 September 2015, 12:09 IST
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.