New Delhi, June 28: The National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) in a scathing interim judgment on Saturday said the Delhi Gymkhana 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 word ‘Imperial’ is wiped off from the club’s name. But, I doubt whether it has been wiped off from its mindset,” stated the judgment, accessed by The Hindustan Times. “It is not a barb against the club…. there is no space to commoners unless they are positioned on the highest pedestal …”

On Friday, the NCLT had asked 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”, officials told The Hindustan Times.

The judgment said the club, which is in the midst of a takeover battle by the Centre, would be allowed to make no “new policy decisions, appoint new members and/or begin new constructions”.

September 7 has been set as the next date of hearing, when the five-member panel will submit its report.

The club, which shares a wall with the Prime Minister’s residence at 7 Lok Kalyan Marg, has been under investigation for around three years. The government has cited “parivarwaad” (nepotism), financial irregularities, misuse of allocated land and issues related to membership as the primary reasons behind its move to acquire the club.

The Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) filed a petition, seen by HT, with the NCLT seeking to take over the club.

The government had asked for the dissolution of the governing body and the appointment of an administrator as interim relief.

Taking on the claim over the “public interest”, 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…”.

It added: “It is coined by the petitioner as a ‘parivar’ club”.

“It is legally untenable,” said a Gymkhana official, requesting anonymity.

“What ‘public interest’ can be prejudicial once it is purely a private club. All private clubs are governed by their own rules. It is not a public place such as the Lodhi club or a marketplace where the government can even levy parking fees. NCLT is also not clear how the government can take back the lease given to the club in ‘perpetuity’ in 1928 and the lease fees the club has been paying since then,” he argued.

But, the NCLT’s interim order said: “…anybody can infer the club has come into existence for the then ICS (Indian Civil Service) officers. That time it was mostly for the English to chill out in the evenings. Obviously, it is their culture; therefore they cherished their culture wherever they ruled. That’s why bars and ballrooms have come up. Of course, Indian kings had it in a different way. Of course, a king is a king, whichever country it is.

After the English left this country, this ruling elite culture has seeped into independent India through the usage of this club, once you get into it, it is always relishing. It is hardly possible to come out of this kind of culture. It could be that this club must have come into the hands of Indian officers after the English left India. After Independence, democracy governed by the Constitution has come into force. Since democracy has become reality, this club should have left its doors ajar for many, if not all, because not only has it bar and ballroom and swimming pool with roof, but has a wonderful library and many other sports facilities.”

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? 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…”

The NCLT said that the “club all through its submissions, through its counsel, keeps on reminding me it is a privileged club, and it is a privilege that is selectively given to high-level officers, judges, eminent persons, businessmen. The shadow over the club is it is so obsessive of its privilege”.

It said: “In the name of privilege, the club has erected an unbuilt wall around it and not permitting the people to have that whiff which they have been having for decades.”

The NCLT observed that the membership of the club changes on a “purely selective basis”.

“It is an ongoing process in this club that membership is purely on a selective basis, the selection basis is changing from time to time, though permanent membership is limited, under the cover of dependents, green card holders, the use of club premises (UCP) holders; the number of people using the facilities of the club is increasing without any restrictions. But the people, who applied for membership, were kept waiting because the dependents became members by fast-tracking their applications,” the judgment stated.

“This club has been enjoying 27 acres of the land of the state which costs around thousands of crores. All this shows imperial behaviour and the insensitiveness of the club against the tenets of democracy … the discussion is about inequity and prejudice,” it added.

“Self-elevation of some people under the cover of positions, eminence, richness, and inheritance as a privilege of the elite is anathema to the fundamental rights,” it stated.

“And in turn prejudicial to the public interest, when somebody appropriates largess of the state for pastimes and whiling away the time drinking wine and whisky in a sprawling land, I believe it is a mockery of the system,” it added.

“In AoA (Articles of Association), there is a provision of a membership category called “Distinguished”, which the club redefined it as the Eminent category. High Court/Supreme Court judges, Bharat Ratnas, Nobel laureates, ambassadors of foreign countries, Central Cabinet ministers, and civil servants, etc; fall in that category. Besides, government secretary, director-general of police, chairman of the railway board, chiefs of Intelligence Bureau, National Investigation Agency & Research & Analysis Wing, lieutenant-generals of armed forces also belong to this category,” said the Gymkhana official.

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