The management of The Energy Research Institute (TERI) and some members of the Governing Council have fallen between two stools in their eagerness to handle Rajendra Pachauri with kid and ensure his ‘honourable’ exit. The plan, best described as monkey balancing and relying heavily on Pachauri’s goodwill, would have seen the man accused of sexual harassment leave the organisation with whatever reputation was retrievable. It would also have eased in Ajay Mathur as the head of the organisation, with the hope of a semblance of accountability and decency. But the plan got one thing wrong – Pachauri’s victim was not part of the calculation. And by all accounts Pachauri had his own plans behind the plan because the succession details remained vague.
The backlash was not ‘planned for’ so no one was prepared for it, The News Minute (TNM) has learnt. How do you prepare for something you refuse to recognise is a question that will haunt TERI for years to come. For months now, the one issue doing the rounds in India and abroad is how some of India’s top corporate names remained silent while an internal TERI report had found in favour of the complainant. Pachauri’s ‘exit’ plan may provide some answers, but more importantly, it shows how far organisations and individuals will go to protect their turf and their factotums. The News Minute (TNM) has been able to piece together a possible scenario to explain the sordid saga. It basically shows how TERI hoped and pushed for the complainant’s version to disappear.
The seventy-five-year-old Pachauri claimed he wanted an honourable exit and TERI management found relief in this. The plan was to “kick Pachauri upstairs” and Mathur would be brought in as the designated Director General. Pachauri, it is believed, was satisfied but now as events show, he had other plans. If push came to shove – as it now has – Pachauri was prepared to take the organisation down with him.
The green room moves came unstuck because they had no legs to stand on. It was a cosy arrangement that ignored the elephant in the room, a Pachauri whom TERI had found guilty of sexual harassment as detailed by the complainant and as subsequent accusations against him followed. The complainant quit the institute in November 2015 saying she was appalled at the shabby treatment meted out to her despite an internal enquiry giving her reason.
The announcement earlier this week that Pachauri would be elevated to the post of executive vice-chairman - a post created for him with executive powers - was the proverbial last straw. TERI watchers say it is a lateral entry which will lead to the man leaving the organisation shortly, but Pachauri-knowers say he is not about to go anywhere. The complainant said news of his promotion made her “flesh crawl”. In her letter to the media, the victim who is a former subordinate colleague of Pachauri has said she intends taking her complaint to “its logical conclusion.” Pachauri denies the allegations. Read here.
And here’s the sting. When TERI named Mathur as Pachauri’s successor in July 2015, almost everything about the “succession” was left deliberately vague. Insiders have told TNM Pachauri continued to act as the head of the organisation, even traveling abroad as the institute’s head. As he made his way back to the organisation of which he has been a part for over 30 years, he was allowed to enter any TERI office other than the headquarters in Delhi and the Gurgaon offices. He and the governing council had managed to turn TERI toxic, insiders say. The complainant then filed a writ petition with the Delhi High Court against TERI’s shabby handling of the case and the court issued notices against both TERI and Pachauri. Following this, the head of the organisation’s complaints panel has also quit.
When the complainant said late last year that the institute was treating her badly, TERI issued a highly inappropriate statement with information that identified her. Reports emerged that other employees too were pressurised to suppress the issue. The courts further helped Pachauri by allowing him now to enter the Delhi headquarters. TERI’s top dogs continued to remain silent, some mindful of their term expiring and others hoping to further their careers. The plan was botched up because Pachauri came out all guns blazing, buoyed by the success of his efforts to suppress facts. Nobody has factored in the ‘P’ factor.
As for underestimating the backlash, there is more bad news for TERI and its management. Last week, a man working for them went to court alleging he was being forced by the organisation to work out a deal with the complainant victim. He has since resigned. This week another victim has accused Pachauri of sexual harassment and media reports say some students at TERI University have refused to accept their degrees if delivered by Pachauri. There is a change.org petition on social media against the man and more people are planning to call him out.
L’affaire TERI is a textbook case of corrosion when organisations and their leaders ignore issues affecting people especially unresolved sexual harassment charges. It points to women and men leaders keen to promote themselves at the cost of junior colleagues they deem dispensable. An organisation that does not respect institutional accountability sets itself on a disastrous course. Damage of this nature and magnitude will be hard to mend and heal.