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Modi Succeeds In Discrediting Yet Another Nehru’s Legacy – The Delhi Gymkhana Club

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, yet again, has succeeded in discrediting Pandit Nehru’s legacy. His government has been waging a war against the Delhi Gymkhana Club’s irregularities for the past three years.

It has cited nepotism, financial irregularities, misuse of allocated land and membership issues as reasons behind its move to acquire the club, which rubs shoulders to the walls of his residence in the posh Lutyens zone.

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The government took the matter to National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) to seek club’s takeover to restore transparency, but the club is resisting its attempt, saying that the government does not have any rights over it, because it is a privately run club.

Among the many submissions made, the club questioned Modi government intriguingly for darting out with a plea against it when it should be addressing the problems of migrant labourers, who have been affected by Chinese virus pandemic.

However, the NCLT, in an interim judgement on June 27, made a scathing remark, calling the club’s attempt to raise concerns of migrant laborers as a camouflage to avoid hearing on the matter.

“Of course, this Corona has not left any country, but this heart-wrenching migrant labor issue is not seen in any country. Who are they? They are all our fellow human beings; they have every right to share the wealth and happiness of this country as any of us experience it … If large parcels of land held back unto oneself as a privilege, then the concern to these migrants is a camouflage to avoid hearing of this case,” the judgement said.

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The NCLT found it intriguing the statement of the club that the central government, instead of attending to migrant laborers issue, has darted out against it with this petition, especially when the it is shut.

The NCLT appreciated the club for showing concern for migrant laborers, but questioned if it was an injustice if the club deprives them of shelter by occupying lands for building clubs and recreation centres, mostly for wining and dining.

“In our country, there are places; one toilet is shared by in between 20 to 50 families. For all this, pleading is not required. If the laborers have shelter in cities to live with their family, would they go back? If cities are occupied with clubs and recreation centres side-lining carriers of the economy, where is the place for
these people to live in? Land of the state is land of the people of the country,” the tribunal noted.

This is one of the observations made by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) while hearing a petition filed by the union ministry of corporate affairs, seeking takeover of the club.

But, why the Modi government wants to take over this iconic landmark?

In its investigation into the affairs of the club, the corporate affairs ministry found violation of the terms of land allotment.

The land was allocated to the club for sporting activities, but only two per cent of the accounts showed expenditure on sporting activities, compared to 30 per cent expenditures on catering consumables, wines, beverages and cigarettes.

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The probe also revealed exorbitant registration fees charged by the club’s committee from aspiring members, despite being in the waiting list, which is pending since 1972. It alleged mismanagement of funds received as registration fees paid by applicants on the wait-list.

No interest was also paid on the registration fees, which remained in the club’s accounts even as the waiting list stretched to decades, the probe added.

The investigation also alleged that membership applications of ‘green card’ holders – permanent members’ dependents over 21 years of age – were fast-tracked while other applicants had to wait for 30-40 years.

Therefore, as a redress, the ministry, before the NCLT, sought suspension of the club’s general committee and transfer of its powers to a set of government-appointed administrators, who would undertake a restructuring.

The ministry also sought an immediate ban on acceptance of any further membership applications or fees.

What directions did NCLT gave to the club to set things right?

The NCLT directed the government to appoint two nominees to the club’s governing body and also set up a five-member committee to look into the alleged irregularities.

It also said restricted the club from making any new policy decisions, appoint new members and begin new constructions.

On club’s violation of terms of land allotment, NCLT observed: “The state case is, it is a club built on the land of the state, it is a club registered under section with an avowed object for promoting sports and other activities including pastimes, but no perceptible work or dedication towards promotion of sports. Mostly on pastimes such as drinking wine and whisky. No doubt it is for relaxing, but relaxing for a few selected people. May be some of them teetotallers.”

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“But club itself having stated that income and expenditure is mostly from drinks, and the petitioner having highlighted it, I cannot escape from mentioning it. The petitioner has categorically stated that in the garb of running it as a public club, the management have made it a hereditary club for its members by way of accelerated membership to relations, against the people standing in the queue for over 42 years,” it added.

Observing further on violations of terms, NCLT said, “It is an ongoing process in this club that membership is purely on selective basis, the selection basis is changing from time to time, though permanent membership is limited, under the cover of dependents, green card holders, UCP holders; number of people using the facilities of the club is increasing without any cap. But the people who applied for membership remained waiting to get into because the dependents become members through fast tracking leaving behind the persons applied for membership.”

Rubbishing the claim over the public interest as argued by the club as baseless since the matter pertains to the club management, the NCLT said, ” The club members make rules for themselves … the club is sitting on the monies of the public in the name of entrance fees or registration fees. On the contrary, the club is 24×7 open to the family members of permanent members from generation to generation … The club is enjoying 27 acres of land of the state in the prime area of Lutyens’ Delhi, now after all this is seen, can it be still said that how does the club affairs matter to the public.”

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It added: “But public, no matter whether poor or rich, paying tax one very thing that is bought or sold. But resources of the country are unilaterally enjoyed by a few with different tags and captions. This is where public interest lies. It is coined by the petitioner as “parivar” club. Especially public which has no voice, always looking at the State hoping it would take a lead for theirgrievance. May be it is about membership, maybe it is about the largess the Club enjoying in the prime area of Delhi just for lazing around.” 

The NCLT also slammed the club for violating Article 14 — the right to equality – as enshrined in the constitution.

“The club counsel has argued that the right to form associations and clubs is a fundamental right under Article 19. Any interference with the affairs of the club is a violation of fundamental right endowed upon this association, whether it is right or wrong. But there is another article, that is Article 14, which speaks volumes about equality, when any organisation is basking in the past glory on the state largesse, whether the shade of Article 14 will fall upon the said organisation or not?

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I believe yes. It is no doubt if anybody comes in the way of forming clubs or associations, or continuation of those associations, such right shall not be truncated, but the right of forming association cannot be extendable to say that it has the right to use acres of land of the state for lazing around…”

NCLT also said the club still reeks of an imperial mindset, as it continues to embrace the colonial past and panders to the privileged and elites in keeping with its Lutyens’ Delhi setting.

“It is on record that soon after independence, the caption “Imperial” is wiped off from the name of the Club, but I doubt whether it has been wiped off from the mindset of the club … (There is) no space to commoners unless they are positioned on the highest pedestal … a class of people, in the name of privilege, have erected an unbuilt wall around the club not permitting the people to have that whiff which they have been having for about decades,” it noted.

The NCLT directed the club’s general committee not to proceed with construction or further construction on the
site and not make any policy decisions. It also directed the GC not to deal with the funds received for
admission of members and stay away from conducting balloting until further orders.

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