The repeated denial of information under Right to Information Act regarding the activities of the Army Polo and Riding Club (APRC) and the manner in which it is conducting its business using Army resources with virtually no transparency, has finally led to the filing of an appeal in the Central Information Commission and a hearing has also taken place in the case.
The appeal came up for hearing on July 18, 2014 with the appellant, Ex-Major Guneet Chaudhary appearing in person in the court of CIC. The Army was represented by Brig Sumar Vir Singh, CPIO/DDG RTI., Lt. Col. Suryanshi, Nodal Officer and Lt. Col.Rohit Dagar, OC 'B' Squadron of 61 Cavalry.
Maj Chaudhary insisted that APRC is an Army Club and it is using the sources and resources of Indian Army. The Chief of Army Staff was the President and all other officials are also from Indian Army. It has got civilians as members apart from Army personnel. He also presented details of the funds collected from the civilians and army personnel by APRC.
He informed the CIC that the horses of APRC are from the Indian Army and private horses of the civilians are also stabled in the area, which is a defence area. He also raised the issue of organizing the Delhi Horse Show, its sponsorship by the corporate groups and even name the Horse show in the name of corporate Groups. Maj Chaudhary also raised the issue of foreigners being the member of the Club, which itself is a security threat.
The Army stated that it will give written submission about the status of the Army Polo And Riding Club.
The CIC passed an order of giving two weeks time to the respondents to file their written submission regarding the status of Army Polo and Riding club and thereafter Appellant will take two week time to file his reply.
BACKGROUND OF THE CASE
The APRC 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 by Major Chaudhary under RTI Act 2005 to CPIO of Indian Army to know the status of the APRC. In response to the RTI Application, CPIO informed that APRC 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 on the basis of the following facts:
1. The Chief of Army Staff was the President of the Army Polo and Riding Club till June 2013.
2. The Quarter Master General of the Indian Army is the President of the APRC at present.
3. APRC is located in the premises of the ‘B’ Squadron of 61 Cavalry of Indian Army.
4. A serving Colonel of the 61 Cavalry, its Commandant.
5. Army Polo and Riding Club is an Army Club, and has approximately 861members. Interestingly, Army members(retired and civilians are 343) and civilian members are 465 in number.
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 details of the fees collected from the Army personnel and Civilians are around Rs 2,13,90000/- and monthly subscriptions are Rs 10,95,400.
The basic issue concerning the membership of APRC is whether the Army, being a government body, can allow membership to civilians and foreigners
6. The sources and resources of the Indian Army are fully used for the functioning of the APRC.
7. APRC uses the services of RVC Doctors for the medical treatment of the Horses and RVC provides medical cover to APRC during the conduct of polo matches.
8. There are reportedly a number of private horses are stabled in the stables of APRC. Either they are the private horses of the Officers of Indian Army or the horses of corporate groups. The misuse of ration of Army Horses of 61 Cavalry can not be ruled out for feeding the private horses and private owners are charged for it .The government manpower is used to maintain these horses. How and under what rules, the private horses are stabled in Army Polo and Riding Club? No answer for this. A surprise check can be conducted to see how the government resources are being misused for personal benefits.
9. 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.
Interestingly, IPA itself is presently not a recognized sports body by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has admitted this in a RTI reply. Interestingly, Chief of Army Staff is the President of Indian Polo Association. The intertwined relationship of the APRC and the IPA can be gauged from the fact that the Commandant of the 61 Cavalry, is also the Honorary Secretary of the Indian Polo Association (IPA) and Chief of Army Staff is the President of IPA and all other officials of IPA are senior officials of Indian Army.
10.The matches are played at the Army Equestrian Centre in Delhi Cantonment, which is located in an area allotted to Army by Defence Estates. What is the status of Army Equestrian Centre?
11. Army Polo and Riding Club organizes DELHI HORSE SHOW every year and collect huge amount of sponsorships from the Corporate Groups. The sponsorship is to such an extent that Horse show is named in the name of Corporate Group ( The Anand, Delhi Horse Show 2013). As per the Defence Estate Rules no commercial activity can be undertaken at the Defence land.
12. A number of Foreign individuals are also the member of the Army Polo and Riding club, which is functioning entirely in the Defence Area.
13. The APRC officials take the message for the brochure of Delhi Horse Show from the Supreme commander of Armed Forces, Hon’ble President of India, under the cover of being an Army Club. This further reiterates the fact that it is a Army Club.
14. 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.
15. The foreign teams are also permitted to participate in the polo matches organized by the APRC. The club is not exclusively for personnel of Indian Army but also have civilians and foreigners as its member. The basic issue concerning the membership of APRC is whether the Army, being a government body, can allow membership to civilians and foreigners.
16.The APRC also takes sponsorship from corporate houses for organizing polo matches. The sponsorship amount is in lakhs for different matches. 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.
17. 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 the then COAS( Chief of Army Staff) and then Quarter Master General(that too after his retirement) to Argentina.
Interestingly the CEO of APRC Col Navjot Singh Sandhu has gone to
on 02 December, 2013 for attending the meeting of FIPA ( Federation of
International Polo Association) on the expenses of Indian Polo Association. Argentina
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.
16. 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 1,18,53000 have been allocated to it by the Army headquarters.
Interestingly, AEC has no Army Horses neither any staff posted or located for the purpose of training towards achieving any medals at National or at International level. AEC is basically a special purpose vehicle created for accommodating the civilian members of the APRC and for organizing Polo matches, which are being conducted on behalf of IPA by APRC. 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.
It is interesting to note that one officer of the rank of Major was court-martialled last year for having contact with a foreign lady visitor to the APRC and disciplinary action was also taken in the same case against an officer of the rank of Brigadier. It is a big security threat under the present circumstances to give easy access to Foreigners in the high security Military area.
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.