By Dinesh C Sharma
Environment scientist Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, who is at the centre of a snowballing sexual harassment case, is one of the oldest serving heads of any academic institution or think tank in India. When I asked a former senior employee of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) as to why the institution is not parting ways with him even after serious criminal charges, he said “because TERI is synonymous with Pachauri. You can’t think of one without another.”
The institution is seen as a baby of the former locomotive engineer who has headed it for close to 35 years, for most part of its existence. Though conceived and established by Darbari Seth, who was chairman of several Tata group companies, it is Pachauri who is widely credited with transforming TERI from a small research group into a global energy and environment think tank.
Most senior researchers and scientists in TERI owe their careers to Pachauri as he is the only director they have worked with. Over the three decades, Pachauri built a loyal base of supporters within the organization, maintaining a rapport even with non-technical staff such as security guards and lift-men. This is the reason protests from within the organization have been rather muted, and coming only from lateral entrants or former employees.
As an institution, TERI appears reluctant to disassociate with its tainted head because it was Pachauri who has been the prime mover behind major projects of the institute. TERI mainly works with central government ministries in power, energy and environment sectors. Funds from the government have continued to flow to TERI irrespective of party in power.
A second major source of projects and income of TERI comes from international multi-lateral agencies such as the World Bank and UN agencies. In both the sectors – national and international – it was the clout of Pachauri that gave TERI an edge in bagging contracts.
“If a project leader faced any hurdle from any ministry, they would just go to him who would pick up the phone and speak to joint secretary concerned,” an employee said. Hiring retired secretaries of ministries concerned as Fellows also helps the institute maintain close ties with important government departments.
Pachauri expanded his network internationally in the 1990s, culminating in his appointment as Chairman of the UN’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, which further added to his clout. The high point of his career was when he collected the Nobel peace prize on behalf of IPCC.
He even got a second term at IPCC, despite a storm over inaccuracies is some reports of IPCC and allegations of his connections with the fossil fuel industry. It was his IPCC connection that got him a top job in Yale University. But he had to resign from the climate change panel, soon after an FIR was lodged in the sexual harassment case.
Continued association of Pachauri with TERI has begun to dent the brand image of the institute. The first casualty has been TERI’s annual high profile event - Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) for 2016, which has been postponed. It is usually held in February and is marketed as a follow-up forum for climate change talks that end in December every year.
The event in the past decade has been attended by UN secretary general, presidents, prime ministers, Nobel laureates and corporate bigwigs. No new dates have been announced for DSDS 2016 till now. Logically speaking, TERI should have gone ahead with the summit without Pachauri if the event has developed a brand of its own in the past 15 years.
It is for the first time in his career that Pachauri is facing continued bad weather. He was successful in warding off the controversy about IPCC reports and conflict of interest issues raised in Western media by blaming climate skeptics and anti-environment lobbies for the same. He even won a defamation suit in the UK. However, this time around he is in a tight spot and solely banking on support from the institute and its handpicked governing council.
Given the seriousness of the charges, it would be better for TERI if it ends its long association with Pachauri right away.