Today's blog is about a shocking lack of transparency, seemingly deliberate, involving one of the premier Regiments of the Indian Army, 61 Cavalry and its association with Army Polo and Riding Club and Indian Polo Association. This continuing opaqueness about the functioning of these organisations raises questions of morality and ethics and has been continuing unchecked right under the nose of the top brass of the Army. It primarily concerns the activities of the Army Polo and Riding Club (APRC) which is utilizing all facilities of the Army without having any legal sanction and without its accounts ever coming under the scrutiny of the the Defence accounts Department.
To begin with, the APRC is neither registered as a society nor as a company but it is functioning since 1995 as an unregistered body under the control of the Indian Army. The Chief of Army Staff was the President of this Club till May 2013. After that Quarter Master General of the Indian Army is the President of this Club. This change in the leadership occurred on the basis of the application filed under RTI Act 2005 to CPIO of Indian Army to know the status of the Army Polo and Riding Club. In response to the RTI Application, CPIO informed that Army Polo and Riding Club is not a Public Authority, so no information can be given regarding the functioning of the Army Polo and Riding Club.
This reply, thus, makes it clear that despite enjoying all the facilities of the Army and having senior Army officers as its office bearers, the APRC has been deliberately kept outside the purview of a public authority. This raises serious questions about the motive to keep it out of the ambit of public scrutiny.
However, the Army’s reply regarding APRC not being a public body may not stand legal scrutiny. Consider this-To begin with APRC is located in the premises of the ‘B’ Squadron of 61 Cavalry of Indian Army and a serving Colonel of the 61 Cavalry, its Commandant, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Army Polo and Riding Club. The sources and resources of the Indian Army are fully used for the functioning of the APRC.
The APRC organizes polo season every year from October 15 to December 8. Interestingly, the Club allows team whose players are playing members of the Indian Polo Association (IPA) through a Club or Associations affiliated to IPA. IPA itself is presently not a recognized sports body by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. The matches are played at the Army Equestrian Centre in Delhi Cantonment, which is located in an area allotted to Army by Defence Estates. The matches are held at Jaipur Polo Ground in Delhi Cantonment which is given on lease By the Ministry of Poverty and Urban Development to Indan Polo Association on long lease. Despite this clear use of Army resources, the Army claims in its RTI reply that the APRC is not a public authority which flies in the face of the definition of public authority under the RTI Act 2005.
Not only Indian but even foreign teams are permitted to participate in the polo matches organised by the APRC. The club is not exclusively for personnel of Indian Army but also have civilians and foreigners as its member. For a civilian to be the member of the Army Polo and Riding Club he has to purchase an Admission form (price printed on the form is Rupees 50/-) but it is given for Rupees 150/. The membership fees per person is Rs 50,000. How and under which rule civilians are made the members and how their admission and monthly subscription is decided, no one is aware about it. The basic issue concerning the membership of APRC is whether the Army, being a government body, can allow membership to civilians and foreigners.
The APRC also takes sponsorship from corporate houses for organizing polo matches. The sponsorship amount is in lakhs for different matches. The prominent sponsors of this year are Yes Bank, Royal Salute of Chivas Brother, Jack Daniels and they have given the contract to Equisports Management Private Limited for getting the sponsorships for polo matches. Equisports management is also managed by some members of APRC. There is no independent audit of the funds collected for the sponsorships and all audit is through an internal auditor of the APRC.
Needless to say, the counting procedures are in gross contravention to orders, thus undermining the image of the Services.
The intertwined relationship of the APRC and the IPA can be gauged from the fact that the Commandant of the 61 Cavalry, Colonel Navjot Singh Sandhu, is also the Honorary Secretary of the Indian Polo Association (IPA). The IPA is a society registered as a ‘welfare body’ and not as a sports association under Section 20 of Societies and Registration Act 1860. Legal experts say there is no provision for a sports body to be registered under the Section 20 of Societies and Registration Act 1860.
IPA itself is not recognized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports Affairs which is the main body looking after sports in India. The fund collected by IPA are used for the overseas visits of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and other senior members of the Indian Polo Association and Army Polo And Riding Club. During the year 2010-2011 as per the balance sheet of the IPA, Rs 18 Lacs were spent on the visit of then COAS to Argentina. It is also surprising that though IPA and APRC is responsible for the promotion of Equestrian sports and they have not been to able to train any individual or team for Asian or Olympics meet.
Interestingly, there is another organization in the name of Army Equestrian Centre, fully controlled by the Indian Army and an Army Establishment operating from the Defence lands and public funds to the tune of Rs 11,85,3000 have been allocated to it by the Army headquarters. It conducts training and tournaments for Army Polo players and provides venue for the IPA events. This organization provides venue/infrastructure facilities/polo grounds for the IPA and APRC events and it is directly under the control of Quarter Master General’s Branch of the Indian Army. The access to civilians is permitted for the events of IPA. Foreigners can use these facilities under special permission of the Army authorities.
IPA collects funds as subscription fees from members, clubs and spends money as per the liking of Honorary Secretary and Army Polo and Riding Club get sponsorships for IPA for polo matches and other events. All this leaves enough funds at the discretion of Honorary Secretary and Chief Executive Officer, who in the present case is the Commanding Officer of the 61 Cavalry.
The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports generally gives grants to the different Sports Federation of India and in its order dated 21 April, 2010, it directed all sports bodies to bring transparency in the functioning of Sports Federation by appointing Public Information Officer for RTI Act, failing which no grants will be given. Amazingly, IPA refused to follow the transparency and did not appoint a PIO without caring for the grants and had refused to take any grants since 2010. It might be argued that the IPA chose not to receive grants in order to avoid appointing a PIO under the RTI Act.
All the above facts make it clear and an independent and fair probe is needed into the activities of the APRC and the IPA in order to ascertain how Army facilities are being blatantly used without any transparency at all. It also needs to be inquired whether there is any complicity of the higher brass of the Army in order to ensure that the dealings of APRC and IPA remain opaque and they are kept out of the purview of the RTI Act for this purpose.
Given the fact that senior Army officers are involved in the dealings with both these organizations, it will augur well for the Service to order a probe immediately on the role of its own officers in these organizations.