On 13 August, around thirty five of 66 former employees of the Delhi Golf Club whose services had been terminated two months earlier protested outside the club’s premises demanding their reinstatement. The 66 employees worked at the food and beverages division of the posh club, located in central Delhi. Employees told me that many of them had worked at the club for 30–40 years but only got a three-day notice period. Since then, they have made several efforts—including writing to several authorities about the illegalities of their termination and regularly holding protests outside the club—to get their jobs back.
The club’s general committee had decided to shut the food and beverages division and dismiss its employees on 24 April, but the employees told me they were informed of this only on 28 May. The club cited the revenue losses caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic and the high salaries being paid to the employees as causes of the dismissal. “They didn’t give any indication that our contract will be terminated,” Intqab Ali, a senior waiter who was among the retrenched employees, told me.
Though their contracts expired on 31 March, the employees told me that the club’s management negotiated the terms and conditions of their employment and renewed their contracts smoothly every three to five years. During the negotiations this year, the employees told me, they had offered to forgo benefits they received since 2014 in light of the financial losses. Moreover, Ram Pal, the president of the Delhi Golf Club Employees Union, told me the employees worked at the club till 31 May.
Since the dismissal order, the Delhi Golf Club Employees Union has written to several authorities stating that the club’s retrenchment exercise saw several illegalities, including the brazen violation of multiple provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and the Disaster Management Act. Employees raised complaints with the central government, Delhi government’s labour commissioner and even filed two petitions in the Delhi High Court. RS Bedi, the president of the golf club, has denied the allegations and said that the food and beverages division is now being outsourced. During my conversations with them, the retrenched employees expressed a sense of betrayal and helplessness. “When I joined, 17 years back, my salary was Rs 650,” Jameel Hussian, a 53-years-old retrenched employee, said. “People who have Rs 8–10 lakh rupees are still working there. Why are they still there and we are thrown out?”
The Delhi Golf Club is a historically elite club in the capital. It is located at the Zakir Hussain road on 179 acres of land that the central government had leased the club in the early 1950s. Even though the land’s worth exceeds fifty-five thousand crores, the club pays only a token license fee of Rs 16,620 per acre each month to the central government, according to one of the employees’ petitions in the high court. The ministry of urban development has nominated three of its officers as members of the club’s general committee. The club charges application and subscription fees. Apart from that, the entrance fee for applicants selected for membership ranges from Rs 3.5 lakh to Rs 15 lakh, plus applicable tax.
The club is registered under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013—which means it is a company whose objective is it to promote commerce, art, science, sports, education, research, social welfare, religion, charity or protection of environment. The profits of Section 8 companies are only to be used for the purpose for which they are promoted. The club is registered under 12A of the Income Tax Act, 1961 which exempts it from paying income tax as well.
According to the company filings with the ministry of corporate affairs for the financial year ending on 31 March 2019, the 5,165-member club’s domestic turnover from sales or supply of services increased to around Rs 33.39 crore from Rs 29.64 crore in 2017–18. The club’s total revenue was Rs 4.5 crore and net worth totalled to about Rs 4.2 crore in 2018–2019. Last year, the club underwent a multi-crore redesigning, which cost nine crores, according to a November 2019 report by The Hindu.
However, the club also reported a loss of Rs 10.4 crore in 2018–2019. According to Bedi, the club’s losses had been piling up for five years and now, it was not getting any revenue due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. He said he had told the staff that they would have to revise their wage agreement and hold negotiations. “Just the outgoing in terms of pay of the food and beverages section are in the region of 5.5 to 6 crores rupees a year, and then there are losses,” he said. “I pleaded with them—‘If this does not work out, we will have to close this section down.’” The employees, however, denied that they received any such warning from the management.
Bedi confirmed that the general committee took the decision to shut the food and beverages division on 24 April but did not issue the termination order for a month. “Just to keep the doors open, we did not execute it,” he said. “We said maybe this would trigger off some sense of urgency with the staff, they would come around and try and get to some meeting point, which does not lead to a closure.” The next meeting of the general committee was held on 25 May, Bedi said, during which it reiterated its decision to shut the food and beverages division due to lack of flexibility of part of the employees.
But two letters that the employees sent to the management in May, annexed in one of the petitions, show otherwise—taking note of the club’s crises, they offered to give up some benefits they received from the club. In a letter dated 13 May, addressed to the club’s chairman Sanjiv Talwar, the employees wrote that their house-rent allowance could be brought down from 20 percent to 15 percent of the basic salary for five years. They said that their gross salary—which was last fixed in 2014—can remain the same till 2025.
The other letter, dated 25 May, was addressed to Anil Kumar Rattan, the chief executive of the club, in reference to a meeting the employees had with Bedi and Rohit Sabherwal, the captain of the club. The letter listed more benefits that the employees were willing to let go of—such as leave-travel concession, Holi bonus, leave encashment—and further said that their medical allowance can be deducted for five years. The employees, however, requested that a five-percent yearly increment be given to the staff whose salary is low.
The employees were willing to negotiate pay cuts to retain their jobs, Ravi Pandey, one of the retrenched employees, told me. But, he added, “They were not willing to talk to us and just had the intention of firing us.”