Demolition of the erstwhile South India Club on Mandir Marg has set alarm bells ringing with the Delhi Tamil Education Association (DTEA) school authorities next-door saying that the “building mafia is actively trying to grab the government land and raise a commercial building”. The market value for commercial rental space in Connaught Place, where this property lies, ranges between Rs.150 and Rs.190 per square foot.
Moreover, the school authorities say that ever since the demolition began, they have not come across any representatives of the club. They say the club became defunct in the early 1990s. In his letter to the Delhi Chief Minister and the Land and Development Office of the Union Urban Development Ministry, DTEA honorary secretary R. Raju had said that nobody knows who the members and office-bearers of the club are.
“No general body meetings were held in the past two decades and no resolutions were adopted by the general body authorising the office-bearers to transfer the lease-hold government property to any third party,” stated the letter.
Seventy-five-year-old V. Parthasarathy, who claims to be an ‘ordinary’ member of the club from 1967 to 1968, said he personally visited the Registrar of Societies and found that no returns were filed for several years as was expected under the Societies Registration Act of 1860. In the early 1940s, the club sublet a section of the plot allotted to it to the Madrasi Educational Association, which set up the school.
In its heyday, the club was a meeting point for people from all four South Indian States and boasted a canteen and indoor games facilities. “Since Delhi did not have any auditoriums at that point, the Satyamoorthi Auditorium was built on the premises. Several classical concerts would take place, including ones by M. S. Subbulakshmi,” said Mr. Parthasarathy. The auditorium was inaugurated by then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K. Kamaraj.
However, activities began to wind up with the DTEA school’s annual day function in February 1994 being the last one to take place at the auditorium, he said. “After that, the building slowly began to deteriorate and the New Delhi Municipal Council even put up a board saying the structure is unsafe,” he added.
The school authorities said their allegations of “land-grabbing” are not baseless since they say they were contacted by a financial services company that expressed interest in redeveloping the plot. “Ever since I took charge in early 2010, I have been called for several meetings with a particular company which was interested in redeveloping the premises,” said Mr. Raju.
A former IAS officer who retired as a Secretary in the Union Home Ministry, S. Lakshminarayanan, said he serves on the Board of the said company. “The South India Club is short of funds and does not have the wherewithal, so I met the head of the company to seek assistance. Even the school authorities have agreed in writing to the club being built in the basement area,” he said. “However, no offices will be permitted,” he added.
Documents accessed by The Hindu show that fire clearances have been obtained for a 25.9 metre-high building (two basements, ground/stilt and seven upper floors) to be developed in the plot for which approvals were sought as early as mid-2011. The head of Ucal Fuel Systems, V. Krishnamurthy, said he became the president of the club in 2011 after being duly elected. “I’ve been holding that post at the club since then. At present, there are nearly 40 members. Meetings are held regularly and statutory returns are filed as required by law,” he said in an email interview.
Clarifying the position on the demolition work, he said that since the old building became unsafe for use mainly because of poor maintenance, it had to be demolished and a new building had to be built. “After due plan approvals from the authorities concerned, construction work was commenced and it is in progress. The work has been entrusted to a contractor. I am not directly supervising the construction work on a day-to-day basis. The club has appointed Dr. Sonya Suri as advisor for this purpose,” he added.
Mr. Krishnamurthy confirmed that the proposed building will strictly conform to floor-area ratio norms and will be as per approved building plans. “The building will chiefly house an auditorium on the ground floor to be called by the old name, Satyamoorthi Auditorium. The first and second floors, which will be of smaller area than the ground floor auditorium, will house a small temple, kitchen, café and a few rooms. The basement will be for parking and sports facilities,” he said. “A few of the rooms may be let out for legitimate office use to ensure some steady flow of income to the club for maintenance. There is no commercial objective even in a remote sense,” he clarified.