By creating a new post and elevating RK Pachauri on Monday as the super boss despite him being out on bail in an ongoing case of sexual harassment, TERI has sent out a clear message that it will brazen out public outrage than act against its chief who has become synonymous with the organisation.
And by continuing to shower the institute with taxpayers’ money, the Centre has become complicit in the sordid drama, never mind its tall claims of championing the cause of women.
As an autonomous body, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) enjoys immunity in decision-making, a point made by the government recently during its submission in the Delhi High Court.
But if an autonomous body starts acting against public opinion, then instead of providing financial support, the government should choke the funds to force TERI’s hands on Pachauri against whom an FIR has been filed on charges of sexual harassment under IPC Sections 354, 354 (a), 354(d) and 506, and who has been found guilty of sexual harassment, stalking and criminal intimidation by TERI’s own internal committee though court stayed that report.
A cursory look at TERI’s 2013-14 annual report makes it clear that Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of External Affairs, Department of Biotechnology and the Planning Commission of India have, at various times, have provided funds to TERI on different projects.
During the hearing of the case in Delhi High Court last September, the woman complainant had also mentioned the names of these departments and the Bureau of Energy Efficiency as governmental arms providing money to TERI following which the court asked the Centre to reveal its funding pattern.
The victim’s counsel, senior advocate Indira Jaising, argued that TERI “primarily failed to treat it as a misconduct or suspend him (Pachauri)” as recommended by its own committee in its report.
Since TERI received government funding, argued the petitioner, it should be treated as a “state” under Article 12 of the Constitution and all laws applicable to government agencies should apply to it.
The Centre’s response was to split hairs and try and distance itself from the controversy.
Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain submitted before the court that the “government only funded certain projects of TERI and had no control over its management.”
The government said that "it is a matter of record that TERI is only been granted certa in project-based financings, many of which have been granted in an open tender form".
A major portion of TERI's funding comes from private concerns, the government added, thus "clearly establishing that neither the government is funding the overall running of TERI, nor can the government be involved in the decision-making of the organisation, the same being a private entity."
But the point is, if the government can’t directly force TERI to act, what is stopping it from imposing sanctions and starving the institute of funds, thereby indirectly compelling it to take action against its chief against whom the 29-year-old woman had alleged half a dozen instances of sexual harassment and brought evidence of over 6000 text and WhatsApp messages, two mobile phones, a laptop, handwritten notes and alleged gifts?
If TERI’s action of brazenness is a message that powerful men can bend the system in their favour, then the government also needs to send a counter-message that the system will protect women who are brave enough to speak up against sexual violence at workplace instead of letting them fall easy prey.
Ranjana Saikia, TERI’s internal complaints committee chief who headed the three-member panel which found former director-general guilty of sexual harassment, has since resigned without citing any reason.
Top TERI officials this year allegedly repeatedly "coaxed and cajoled" a male researcher, a friend of the victim, to approach the lady complainant in a ‘hush-hush manner’ so that she becomes agreeable to an out-of-court settlement.
And amid all this, the victim was forced to quit her job and now lies scared and scarred, broken in spirit by the system against which she put up a valiant fight.
This is what she told the Delhi Police, summing up her submission: “I feel broken and scarred in body and mind due to Dr. Pachauri’s behavior and actions…I get frequent panic attacks due to the constant harassment and being made to feel like an object of vulgar desire from this man, who is old enough to be my grandfather…”
She even wrote to the Prime Minister, pleading with him to take action, expressing "shock and distress" with the attitude of TERI’s governing council members. She also pointed out, according to this Economic Times report, how one of the most "able" officers investigating her case inspector Ajay Negi has been transferred out.
It is not enough for the Prime Minister to wax eloquent on how girls are the future of India if he is caught wanting in action when his intervention is needed the most.
There can be no equivocation. The government must put pressure on TERI’s board on Pachauri, failing which all funding should immediately be stopped.
Unless the Prime Minister walks the talk on dignity of women, his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ on girl child will resemble Macbeth’s soliloquy: “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”