New Delhi: In the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, members of the Delhi Gymkhana Club, described by the Narendra Modi government as an “elite madhushala”, are fighting with the state-appointed administrator to retain the last bit of their century-old exclusivity. A northeast festival, an enactment of Ram’s return to Ayodhya and seminars open to outsiders are just a glimpse into the new changes to mainstream the club.
The Gymkhana Club has been mired in controversies for the last two years. Now, members are accusing administrator Om Pathak of robbing the club of its essence. He was brought in to clean up its finances.
On 15 February this year, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) dissolved the Gymkhana governing council and directed the government to appoint an administrator to oversee and check “mismanagement”, after the Ministry of Corporate Affairs filed a petition alleging corruption, mismanagement, and nepotism in the club. After M.M. Juneja and Vinod Kumar Yadav, a third administrator, retired IAS officer Om Pathak, took charge in May 2021, appointed to the post by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.
Pathak, a former UP-cadre IAS officer, is the founder and chairman of SelaQui International School as well as the School Sports Promotion Foundation.
He has attributed the complaints of club members to their discomfiture at no longer wielding as much power as they used to. He further told ThePrint that he was deliberately trying to “finish the culture” of certain individuals treating the club as private property.
Anger over ‘private club being turned into a public space’
One of the oldest members of the Gymkhana Club, a retired Army major who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint that Pathak was “destroying the very nature” of the establishment.
“Last month, he sent out a letter to all the members of the club asking them to nominate themselves for unelected sub-committees. The rules say the committees have to be formed amongst members who have been elected in the annual general meeting. Instead, more than 15 sub-committees were made according to the whims and fancies of Mr Pathak and they do whatever they feel like.”
The retired major offered as an example certain seminars that were recently held at the club, including one on 8 October on Afghanistan and another on 20 November on the Quad alliance in the Indo-Pacific.
According to him, “hardly 25” people attended these seminars and those who did were “outsiders” and “known people of Mr Pathak” rather than club members.
“In times of Covid, the amount of expenditure he has been incurring on seminars and festivals is highly unwarranted and not even within the charter of the club. Delhi Gymkhana is a private club and meant for sports and recreational activities of members,” he said.
A former member of the now-disbanded governing council had similar complaints about Pathak allegedly flouting long-standing rules.
On the condition of anonymity, she said Pathak had been letting out the premises of the Gymkhana for public events, like the Northeast Cultural Festival earlier this month.
“The northeast festival went on for three days, during which the area meant for members of the club was closed. Invitations were sent to all and sundry and no guest charges were levied. Our rules clearly say that a member can only bring two guests, but Mr Pathak invited a lot of his IAS and political friends free of cost. He has turned a private club into a public space or a party venue, which will be given to whoever Mr Pathak feels is important,” she added.
The former governing council member said she believed Pathak was pandering to the BJP government. She questioned inviting BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi as chief guest for the northeast festival, noting that “no political figure” had been called to perform such a function at the club before.
“On Diwali, a performance on the return of Ram to Ayodhya was enacted at the club, as part of Pathak’s push for a Hindutva cultural heritage agenda. I think he is subtly doing all this to come close to the ruling party, because his actions align with the mindset of the people of the ruling party,” added the former governing council member.
She also alleged that Pathak had “bulldozed” an organic farm belonging to the club. “It used to give employment to poor people. The organic vegetables were sold, which would bring money into the accounts of the club, but Mr Pathak razed the ground and tried to turn it into a party space, but, fortunately, the PM’s security came down heavily on him, as the area was within a 100-metre radius of the PM’s residence and hence no construction work could take place there.
“But in the process, the club lost its old farm,” she said.
Unethical for members to air comments in public: Pathak
When ThePrint asked Pathak about the allegations levelled against him, he claimed that only “members who are losing their unchecked power have problems with me”.
“I conducted defence seminars and also sent [records of the proceedings] to the ministries of the government. I feel there is nothing wrong in it if people who take care of the security of our country are discussed and appreciated,” he said.
“I also conducted cultural programmes like the Diwali play and the northeast festival. I let out our space because both the tribunals [the National Company Law Tribunal and the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal] have clearly said that Delhi Gymkhana is not a private club but a space leased out by the government that should take care of public interests as well,” Pathak said. “Some people made it their own property and I am trying to finish the culture.”
When asked about the organic farm, Pathak said there was no such thing at the club. “This is an absolute lie. When I took over, I saw a big chunk of debris which I removed. A few members are making up things to tell the media.”
Pathak said it was “unethical” for members to air their complaints in public. “The matter is sub-judice and members should not take unnecessary complaints to the media. If they have legitimate points to make, they should make them in front of the judiciary, I will answer there,” he added.
‘Questions about staff bonuses, appointments’
Ashok Yadav, president of the Gymkhana Welfare Association, told ThePrint that Pathak’s appointment had affected the staff adversely.
“More than 500 staff members used to get a bonus since 1993, Mr Pathak has stopped it after he took over. Not just that, he has also cancelled the wage agreement of all the permanent staff members, leaving us in the lurch,” Yadav said.
“We do not know what salaries and facilities will now be given to the staff. A lot of staff have retired and they have not been given their gratuity, we have been writing to Mr Pathak but he hasn’t replied to even one of our letters.”
Yadav also alleged that there had been some irregularities in appointments. “[Pathak] has got his own people to fill five or six managerial posts. Some posts were newly created and were not even necessary. For example, a new ‘assistant director’ post was created last month and a person was brought in without anybody’s knowledge,” Yadav said.
“A store manager known to Mr Pathak was brought in, but we already had a person who took care of the store. Om Pathak was appointed to look into the club’s alleged financial irregularities, but irregularities seem to have increased after his entry,” Yadav added. ThePrint reached Pathak by phone for a response on these allegations, but he didn’t offer any comment since he was busy. However, he had said earlier that all the allegations against him are cooked-up.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)