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More wine & cigarettes, less sport — why Delhi Gymkhana Club was ‘taken over’ by govt

NCLT dissolved Delhi Gymkhana Club’s general committee last year on various allegations made by govt. NCLAT has upheld that verdict, and govt has appointed an administrator.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s appointment of an administrator to oversee the Delhi Gymkhana Club Monday is the latest move towards getting the “imperial mentality” out of the posh club, in the words of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).

The appointment of Manmohan Juneja, OSD with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, came after the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) allowed the government to, in effect, take over the club, upholding the NCLT’s June 2020 decision to dissolve its general committee.

The Delhi Gymkhana Club is spread over 27 acres on Safdarjung Road in Lutyens’ Delhi adjoining the Prime Minister’s residence, having moved to this location 108 years ago. It was initially called the Imperial Delhi Gymkhana Club, but post-Independence, the word ‘imperial’ was dropped. Last year, the NCLT had observed that the “mentality” of the club continued to be “imperial”, and upheld the allegations of corruption in construction projects, out-of-turn membership, exorbitant fees, and favouritism.

The club’s members include top politicians like Rahul Gandhi, Smriti Irani and Suresh Prabhu, along with civil servants, armed forces officers and industrialists, highlighting its image as an exclusive circle of the elite.

“Under the garb of distinctive character of the club which is a relic of the imperial past, the doors for membership are virtually limited to people having blue blood in their veins thereby perpetrating apartheid and shattering the most cherished constitutional goal of securing social justice and equality of status and opportunity,” the NCLT said in June 2020, in the case initiated by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs.


Also read: Delhi Gymkhana files complaint against retired colonel ex-secy for Rs 2 lakh liquor ‘theft’


Wine and cigarettes 

Almost four years ago, seven club members, including an ex-president of the general committee of the club, filed a complaint with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, alleging mismanagement of funds. In 2017, taking cognisance of this complaint, the ministry conducted a probe, and found irregularities and violations of the Company Act by the management.

On the basis of this complaint, in April 2020, at the peak of the Covid lockdown, the ministry moved a petition in the NCLT, citing these violations as grounds for a potential takeover by the government.

According to the ministry’s petition, while land had been allocated to the Delhi Gymkhana Club at low prices for sporting activities, its expenditure on sports was no more than 2 per cent; instead, in contravention of the terms of land allotment, 30 per cent of the expenditure went towards catering expensive wines, beverages and cigarettes.

The ministry further alleged that the club charged an application fee of Rs 1 lakh or more for membership, on which it did not pay interest, even though there was no guarantee of membership being granted even after 20 to 30 years.

Its probe also found that the utility charge paid by government officials to join the club had risen to Rs 1.5 lakh from Rs 5,000 in the year 2000. For non-government candidates, the charge had risen to Rs 7.5 lakh from Rs 5,000.

On the basis of these allegations, the ministry sought control of the club’s management, and a disbandment of its general committee. The NCLT and NCLAT agreed, but with a difference — while the ministry had sought that the club be run by a set of 15 of its own chosen administrators, for now, it will be run by one administrator.


Also read: Why the lack of approval from Lutyens’ Delhi bothers Narendra Modi so much


Members aghast

ThePrint contacted Lt Gen. D.R. Soni (retd), president of the now-disbanded Delhi Gymkhana Club general committee, for a comment, but he didn’t respond.

However, a member of the club who didn’t wish to be identified, said: “The hearings in the matter started at the peak of the lockdown over video conferencing, and we were given two days to respond. We never understood the government’s urgency in this matter in a pandemic… There were reports after reports in the media about how the club is a haven of extravagance and exclusivity, and all that happened here was money-making.”

The member said the club’s management would challenge the order in the Supreme Court, but refused to divulge any other detail about the future course of action.

Meanwhile, A.S. Dulat, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing and a member of the club, called it a “sad day”.

“I have been a member of this club for the last 50 years, and I can tell you it is not only the best club in the country, but also one of the best in the world… There is 50 per cent membership for those from the government, and if that makes the club exclusive, then yes, it is exclusive,” Dulat told ThePrint.

Dismissing the allegation of the club not being used for sports, Dulat said: “From squash to tennis to swimming — we’ve done it all there… It is basically a sports club. My son learnt swimming there, and went on to become a national swimmer…

“Yes, we also enjoy our band and entertainment there, but that does not make it a morally corrupt place. We are proud of our entertainment.”

While Dulat said there is no point in questioning the government or the NCLAT’s decision, he said he’s hoping against hope that this arrangement is temporary, and the club can go back to being run by a general committee soon, once the government has corrected what it needs to.

The anonymous member quoted above concurred with the former RAW chief. “Over 80 per cent of the club’s land is used exclusively for sports, and it has consistently produced champions across sports… Even if there are wine and cigarettes served, it is not a grounds to portray the club as some morally corrupt den,” the member said.

About the high registration fee allegation, the member pointed out that last year itself, all applicants were informed that they would be given a refund of Rs 6 lakh, and those who opted out of the membership queue were given a full refund.

“This was done in February last year. How is it that no cognisance was taken of this?” the member asked.

“Suddenly, it seems that the Delhi Gymkhana Club is the biggest financial fraud in this country, and we’ve been taken over as though we are a bankrupt company… On one hand, there is talk of privatisation across the country, and here, the government wants to run the administration of a sports and leisure club?”


Also read: Clash of the titans: It’s true Lutyens’ elite vs Modi govt over Delhi Gymkhana management


 

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Funnily these Lutyens’ hacks preach socialism to the country while practicing cronyism themselves. They should bear the brunt of socialism themselves which they extract from the tax paying middle class. Let there be slums near their houses, tear down these exclusive clubs. They should too taste the socialism medicine which has been subjected to middle class since 1947.

  2. Any club that was established with public land donation or public money must admit all public as its members without any bias. There is no justification for government employee quota. If such basic fairness is not being practiced, the government must indeed take over the club, remove all entitlements and open it for public. But I doubt that this government has the guts or the will to do it.

  3. Lutyen’s Delhi cannot and must not be the preserve of the high and mighty. It is no more the seat of imperial power. Instead,bit must reflect the democratic ethos of the nation. Whether the management is private or govt appointee, the club must not be elitist in nature.
    And if at all it is elitist, then it must be a meritocracy. For example, say all IAS and IFS officers are granted memberships. Or all armed forces officers are granted memberships.
    Some well defined, impartial and unbiased criteria must be there for obtaining membership at such a prestigious club. One should not be a member just because he/she was born into a privileged family or is a part of the elite strata of our society.

  4. Govt should sell the land. With that money, Govt can start at least 100 schools for the poor.
    Let the rich and Rahuls of the world enjoy their scotch in their farmhouses..

  5. On a lighter note, if babus can run fertiliser plants and chemical factories, why not an elegant club in such pristine surroundings. I fell in love with the trees of Delhi Gym, discovered the beauty of the seemul which begins to flower in February. When Shri A S Dulat was President, would see him pottering around, most genial and benevolent, not one’s mental picture of a cloak and dagger man. All clubs are exclusive. Since when did that become a disqualification. One should not carry such a big chip on one’s shoulder, for so long.

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