It has been a bad fall for Rajendra K Pachauri, a distinguished scientist and climate specialist, who drew international attention to The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). The governing council of TERI has shown him the door as he battles charges of sexual harassment by a junior colleague. It has replaced him with energy expert Anil Mathur as the director-general of the organisation. Pachauri’s removal has come nearly five months after his resignation as chairman of the United Nations climate change panel and also as a member of the Prime Minister’s council on climate change following a case against him for sexual harassment of a 29-year-old subordinate in February. Though a statement issued by the council made no mention of the charges against him, the move is evidently prompted by outrage within TERI and outside against a court order last week allowing him to return to work.
After the passage of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 and a slew of judicial pronouncements tied to it, Pachauri’s exit as TERI chief ought to have happened earlier. Evidence came up making his continuance in the position untenable. A government employee facing similar charges would have been suspended even before filing a charge-sheet on the basis that his continuance in office was likely to prejudice the investigation. It is unfortunate that the council comprising renowned leaders of the corporate world did not show enough sensitivity to public sentiment.
Now that the council has acted, it must also put in place an appropriate mechanism within the organisation to ensure that similar delays do not recur. Harassment at workplaces is a problem the best of companies worldwide have faced. That is proof of the seriousness of the issues involved. Public bodies in the private as well as government sector must inculcate a culture that deals with offences in offices with the sensitivity they deserve. As more and more women join the workforce, the issue will require greater attention. Passing of laws will have little effect if the spirit behind them is ignored.