The central government’s crusade against “family fiefdoms” seems to have reached the doorsteps of the elite Delhi Gymkhana Club, with the union ministry of corporate affairs alleging a violation of norms to fast-track membership claims of relatives of a “select coterie”, and concerns among members about alleged attempts to trace their family tree.
Spread over 27.03 acres of prime property in the heart of the national capital, the club, founded in 1913, is pilloried by its detractors as an “elite madhushala” and a “watering hole. It counts among its members the who’s who from the bureaucracy, judiciary, armed forces and corporate world.
It all began with inspections in 2016 and 2019 by the ministry of corporate affairs, which subsequently moved the National Company Law Tribunal in March 2020 alleging financial irregularities under the Companies Act, 2013 and violation of membership rules of the club’s Articles of Association, among other charges.
Two years later, in April 2022, the tribunal dissolved the elected 17-member general committee, paving the way for the government to nominate a six-member committee, comprising two BJP leaders – the party’s national spokesperson Nalin Kohli and Delhi general secretary Kuljeet Singh Chahal. A supplementary inspection report, submitted by the MCA, alleged that the management of the club remained in the hands of “a chosen few” and certain categories of membership were “nothing short of hereditary succession or parivar-waad”.
In June, the new committee opened two battlefronts in its quest to set the house in order; the more recent one being the announcement on June 20 to not allow spouses of deceased members to use facilities from the next month. Earlier, on June 9, it had sought personal details of all the 5,600 members and around 10,000 users under various categories for “data updation” by June 31.
Half of the membership is reserved for serving government officials, and according to the government, the waiting period for permanent membership is over 30 years.
“This data will be used to issue new cards to all members after discontinuing current cards over the next few weeks,” read the circular, signed by director-secretary Ashish Verma. “The GC [general committee] after considering the draft report on membership by [audit firm] Deloitte and on inspection of the available membership records along with inputs from various officials of the Club including the Manager Membership, has taken an in principle decision to collect data afresh from all existing members/users to update the records and ensure that they are complete in all aspects.”
However, with only 8,200 members answering an exhaustive list of revised questions through email, the June 31 deadline was first extended to July 15 and now to July 31.
The government panel has sought personal details through 60 questions, including those on the route (family or direct) taken for membership, the original application form, the names of the “proposer” and “seconder”, details of children of members, relatives who are members, and membership granted to father- and mother-in-law.
But members fear that the circular may result in many losing their membership.
A member and former bureaucrat jokingly speculated that the committee was preparing a pinboard against users.
“The questions don’t leave anything to the imagination,” they said. “It evokes the picture of a montage of photos connecting them with a string to see who is related to whom...Many fear that they may be deprived of using club facilities. If not permanent members, users will be the worst hit.”
Alleging that the committee was trying to trace the “family tree” of members, another member sounded alarmed. “I have been a member for so long. Later, my brother became a member not because of me but in his own capacity. No law was violated by those whose relatives are also members.”
However, the ministry told the tribunal that a few membership categories were arbitrarily created by the general committee in alleged violation of club norms. “The general committee members have in fact become a select coterie of permanent members who have converted the section 8 company (under the Companies Act) in a family fiefdom by illegally fast-tracking the permanent membership of their dependents or the so-called converted green card holders/UCPs (use of club of premises pending elections).”
The ministry claimed that green card holders and UCPs don’t exist under club rules. While green card holders are children of permanent members who become eligible for permanent membership upon application, UCPs are those who are on the verge of becoming permanent members.
However, members Newslaundry spoke to pointed out that section 13(1) of the club’s article of association mentions an entrance fee for UCPs for children of members.
Further, the new panel’s announcement on June 20 to not allow spouses of deceased members to use facilities was also rolled back as members pointed out it was against the AoA.
Members conceded that certain “procedural lapses” were committed but nobody “benefited”. “Instead of setting the house in order, the government intends to destroy the sanctity of the club with vengeance,” alleged a member, who was part of various sub-committees of the club.
On June 16, nine members submitted a complaint to the government, pointing to the financial burden on the club and questioning the need for the survey when a similar data updation exercise was carried out in August last year. “Regretfully the thrust/objective of the notice under reference has not been stated other than that existing membership cards will not be valid after a few weeks,” they wrote.
“Details of all members are already in the club records. They want the original application form too. How do they expect us to furnish it when some members have been part of the club for decades. It is destroyed as soon as a user becomes a permanent member in accordance with the law,” rued another member, who has been with the club for over 50 years.
A former army officer raised questions about the futility of asking “who proposed or seconded our names”. He also claimed that the mild response to the questionnaire “shows many are not good with technology or are anxious that if they unwittingly share wrong information, they may be shown the door”.
However, BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli, who is part of the new committee, differed. “Even the interim report by Deloitte [which was relied upon by the MCA inspection and the tribunal] had flagged missing membership forms and details of several thousand members of the club...NCLT has directed the new committee to take corrective steps. This step is in that direction,” he told Newslaundry.
Kohli refused to comment on members’ apprehension about being shown the exit door. “This club is required to implement the directions in the judgment of the NCLT in terms of running it in terms of its AoA and taking required corrective steps...having complete membership data is obviously a necessary and corrective step.”
Former Indian revenue officer and club director-secretary Ashish Verman seconded Kohli. “A certain set of membership data is missing. Deloitte will update it for audit. The data updation process has been very smooth so far,” he told Newslaundry.
A former IPS officer, who is a member, said, “I am not a privacy-minded person. I have nothing to be robbed off. So these fears (among some members) are subjective and vary from person to person.”
Newslaundry Events: From The Media Rumble to NL Chats and webinars, updates and details on latest Newslaundry events.