Rotary in India

CALCUTTA was the home town for the first Rotary club in the mainland of Asia. R.J. Combes, the manager of a steel products company while on a business trip to U.S.A. was so impressed by the “Friendship, fellowship, and service” aspects of the movement called Rotary that he wanted to introduce the idea to his friends in Calcutta also. There was no difficulty for him to convince enough people and convene the first meeting on 26 September, 1919. The new club was chartered just after three months of the first meeting, on the new year day of 1920 to be exact. All the twenty charter members were non-Indians.

The first Indian member was S.C.Rudra who was inducted in 1921. In 1921 itself Sir Surendranath Banerjee was made an honorary member. The first Indian to become the club secretary was Nitish C. Laharry (1926) who climbed all steps to reach Rotary’s top slot viz. R.I. presidentship in 1962-’63. A.FM.Abdul Ali was the first Indian to adorn the collar of a club president.

Except for the lone club chartered in Lahore (in Pakistan now) in 1927, for about a decade India had to be content with only one club, i.e. R.C. of Calcutta. Things changed when James Wheeler Davidson of Calgary, Canada arrived on Indian shores with a firm determination to spread Rotary in India. In fact he was responsible for establishment of Rotary clubs in different countries including Australia, New Zealand, Southern Europe, Egypt, Siam and Japan and was known as ‘Marco Polo of Rotary.’ Jim Davidson planted Rotary in Bombay as well as Madras (now Chennai) in 1929.

Of the 38 charter members of the club in Bombay, 37 were non-Indians. The only Indian was Sir Phiroz Sethna, a legislative member, who later served as district governor (1937-’38).

F C .James of United Planters Association of South India, who was a past president of R. C. of Calcutta helped Jim Davidson in the formation of the Madras Club. On 10 May 1929, thirty charter members, all non-Indians assembled and elected C. G. Armstrong Chairman of Madras Port Trust as the charter president A.A.Hayles, former editor of The Mail was also among the charter members. In 1929 itself Raja Sir. M.A. Muthaiah Chettiar was inducted into the club.

Even though Davidson organised a Rotary club in Delhi also in 1929, in a couple of years the club had to be closed down as the membership tapered off due to one or other reasons. In 1930 two clubs were formed- Etah and Meerut.

Mahatma Gandhi addressed Rotary Club of Calcutta which had only non-Indians on the rolls even then.

The growth of Rotary in India was rather very slow for many years, thanks to the predominance of foreigners in the clubs and other reasons such as agricultural nature of Indian economy.

In 1933 Rotary branched out to Amritsar and to Bangalore in 1934. By 1936 Ahmedabad, Baroda, Jamshedpur, Poona and Sholapur had Rotary clubs. Three clubs were chartered in 1937, Lucknow, Surat and Cochin. R. C. of Cochin had 22 charter members of whom 10 were non-Indians and Sir R. K. Shanmugam Chetty was the charter president. (chartered on 23 August 1937) This club had the unique privilege of meeting at an Island (Wellingdon Island) which was built by one of its own members (Sir Robert Bristo).

Asansol, Madurai and Rajkot clubs were formed in 1938 Another three clubs at Agra, Salem and Jabalpur came into existence the next year. The Delhi Club was also revived in 1939, thanks to the efforts of Sir. Frederick James, the first Rotary governor from India. Dehra Dun and Dharward invited Rotary in 1940. The next year Rotary moved to Bhopal, Mithapur, Belgaum and Nilgiris. Nilgiris club extended Rotary to Coimbatore in 1943. Visakhapatnam and Navasari clubs were already functioning. Patna club with 36 charter members was also formed the same year. Other clubs of 1943 origin were Kakinada, Vijayawada, Bhuj, Patiala, Kanpur, Allahabad, Guntur, Kolhapur and Patna. Tirunelveli club was also chartered in 1943 with 45 charter members and District Collector Viswanatha Rao as the charter president. Rotary clubs of Nagpur, Baruch, Satara, Mysore and Bhavnagar were formed in 1944. In the two years that followed Cuttack, Dhanbad, Akola, Nasik, Ratlam, Moradabad, Faizabad, Gadag, Indore, Jaipur and Gorakhpur were added to the Rotary India map. Tirunelveli club took Rotary to Tuticorin also in 1946. As many as ten clubs were chartered in 1947. They were: Godhra, Gwalior, Palanpur, Nadiyad, Ambala, Mussoorie, Lucknow(2), Ahmednagar, Hubli, Vellore and Howrah.

By the time India became independent, there were 71 Rotary clubs (14 in Gujarat, 10 in Maharashtra, 10 in UP, seven in Tamil Nadu, seven in Karnataka and 23 in another 10 states) with a total membership of 3121 members.

Up to 1931-32, Rotary clubs in India were non-districted. From 1932 to 1935 clubs in India, Burma and Ceylon were grouped under provisional District A. On 1 July 1935 District 89 was formed with clubs in Afghanistan, Burma, Ceylon and undivided India. The first district governor was Sir Frederick E James (1935-36). Sir Phiroz Sethna followed him the next year. Sir F. E. James had to be once again at the saddle due to the sudden death of Phiroz Sethna.

The first conference of Provisional District “A” was held in 1932 at Calcutta with Sir F. E. James as the first governor with a total registration of 39. The 1934 conference was held at Bombay and 1936 at Bangalore. Up to 1936, R.I. president was not represented at the conferences and there was no conference in 1934-35.

The first conference of Rotary District was in Madras in 1936’37 under the governorship of Sir F E. James. Haji M.Eusoff represented the R.I.President at this conference which had a registration of 63. The second conference was at Baroda which had a registration of 121. At the third conference which was held at Colombo the attendance further improved to 210.

In 1939 District 89 was bifurcated to create District 88 also which consisted of Afghanistan, Burmah and part of undivided India. B. T Thakur, Col.Warren Boulton and again B.T.Thakur were the D.G.s between 1939 and 1942.

The district conferences of District 88 were held at Calcutta (regn.220), Bhopal and Agra (regn.82). District 88 was subsequently renumbered as District 90 which had one of its conferences at Jamshedpur with Nitish C. Laharry as District Governor. This conference had a registration of 154 and R.I. President’s representative was Sir Frederick James.

Growth of Rotary in independent India was also sluggish. In seven years (up to 1954) only 54 clubs could be added. In 1950, there were only 198 clubs with a Rotarian strength of 7,785 in the whole of Asia, the least numbers both in matter of clubs as well as total number of Rotarians, among the six Rotary regions then existed.

By 1958, there were five Rotary districts in India, Ceylon, Burmah, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan with about 7,500 Rotarians. In another ten years, there were 430 clubs and 16,055 Rotarians in these countries.

In 1968-69, Pakistan became a separate district. The number of districts in India was 12 in 1970-71. From seventies the growth of Rotary in India picked up some momentum. The number of clubs which stood slightly above three hundred more than doubled in the next ten years. The same tempo continued in the first half of eighties also. In 1980-81 there were 899 clubs in India in 14 R. I. Districts with a membership of 35,172 Rotarians.

The extension of Rotary in the second half of eighties broke all the previous records. The number of clubs chartered between 1985 and 1989 (five years) was more than double the number of clubs formed between 1975 and 1984 (ten years). Out of the current strength of 1947 (1999 April figure) clubs 19 percent of the clubs are those established in five years between 1985 and 1989 (362 clubs).

In the first half of nineties also Rotary continued to grow well. Of the existing Indian clubs 317 were chartered during these years. District 3140 alone contributed 50 clubs during the period.

In the beginning of 1995-96, when the system of regions in the Rotary world was abolished and the new zone system was introduced, India had 1654 Rotary clubs in 28 districts and the number of Rotarians was 58,777. In 1996 there was remarkable growth of Rotary in India, thanks to Calgary Challenge. As many as 133 clubs were chartered in 1996. In 1995 the number of new clubs was only 74. In the first quarter of 1997, there were 1,791 clubs in India with a total membership of 68,043.

The first Asia regional conference was held in Delhi in 1958 with a registration figure of 2,913. The regional office established in Bombay in 1934 was shifted to Singapore in 1939, but the same was closed down in 1948. A full fledged regional office was opened in Delhi in 1984. Another Asia regional conference was held in Delhi in 1987 and this regional conference broke all previous registration records with its 10,501 registrations. Delhi again was fortunate to host the Council on Legislation in 1998.

During the last 85 years of Rotary’s existence in India, several world leaders emerged from this region. The first Asian to become R.I. President from Asia was Nitish Laharry (1962-63) from Calcutta. We had to wait another thirty years for another Indian to be elected as R. I President. In 1991-92 Rajendra K.Saboo (Raja Saboo) from Chandigarh had the rare opportunity of leading the world’s leading service organisation. Raja Saboo also served as the Chairman of The Rotary Foundation (1996-97), the only Indian to hold the position in Rotary’s history.

Sir Frederick E. James was the first R.I. director from India (1933-34). Sir.Shapoorjee B. Bilimoria was R.I. Director in 1943-44 and was second vice-president during 1949-50. Before becoming R.I.President, Nitish C.Laharry also held the office of vice – president in 1953-54 and director in 1954-55. B.T. Thakur of Calcutta Club also became second vice-president in 1946-47. (The full list of distinguished Rotarians who held top positions in RA is given below).

Rotary Leaders from India

  • Sir. Frederick James Madras Director 1933-34
  • Shapporjee B.Billimoria Bombay Director 1942-43
  • B.T.Thakur Calcutta Vice President 1946-47
  • Shapoorjee B Billimoria Bombay Vice President 1949-50
  • Nitish C. Laharry Calcutta Vice President 1953-54
  • Nitish C. Laharry Calcutta Director 1954-55
  • Krishna Prasad Delhi Director 1961-63
  • Nitish C.Laharry Calcutta President 1962-63
  • Edul C.Eduljee Nagpur Director 1973-75
  • Soli S Pavri Bombay Director 7977-79
  • Rajendra K. Saboo Chandigarh Director 1981-83
  • Manohar L. Manchanda Faridabad Director 1984-86
  • Sudarshan Aggarwal Delhi Director 1987-89
  • Rajendra K. Saboo Chandigarh President 1991-92
  • M.K. Panduranga Setty Bangalore Director 1991-93
  • O.PVaish Delhi TRF Trustee 1991-94
  • T.Ramesh U. Pai Manipal Director 1992-94
  • Rajendra K. Saboo Chandigarh Chairman, TRF 1996-97
  • Kalyan Banerjee Vapi RI Director 1995-97. TRF Trustee 2001-05
  • O. P. Vaish Delhi RI Director 1999-2001
  • Dr P C Thomas, RI Director 2001-03
  • Sushil Gupta, Delhi RI Director 2003-05
  • Ashok Mahajan as RI Director 2007-09 then serving as TRF Trustee 2009-2013 and two more
  • Yashpal Das and Shekhar Gupta take over in 2011
  • Edul C.Eduljee Nagpur served as RI Treasurer

R.I. Zones and India

Growth of Rotary in India in the last two decades outstripped the growth of Rotary elsewhere in the world. When the world membership which stood at 853,000 in 1980 gradually climbed to 1,193,000 in 1998, Rotary’s strength in India showed a growth from 35,000 to 6$,000. In other words when the world growth was about 40%, India recorded an astonishing 95 percent.

Rotary in India took up the Calgary Challenge in the right earnest. During 1996 a record number of 133 new clubs were chartered in India. The figure far 1995 was 74. As a result of this unprecedented growth, the number of clubs in the beginning of 1997-98 was 1791 with a membership of 68,043. During 1997-98, however, there was slight dip in membership. Though the number of clubs increased to 1817, the Rotarian count came down to 67,759. During 1998-’99 again both the club count as well as membership in the clubs increased and reached the figure 1947 and 69,859 respectively.

The 28 districts in India are now under zones four, five, and six. Zone five consists of 17 districts of India, one joint district of India and Nepal and the only district in Pakistan.

There are 20 Rotary districts in Zone 6, spread in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh, Mongolia and Thailand. Out of these twenty, eleven districts are in India.

While the districts of Zone 5 are geographically contiguous, Zone 6, presents a different picture. It spreads into vast areas and into several countries.

When the zone concept was introduced in 1995, abolishing the erstwhile regions, the main criteria was to have almost same number of Rotarians in the 34 zones so that each director will represent the same number of Rotarians.

Today there are about 70,000 Rotarians in India, sufficient to fill two zones. I think it is high time the zone boundaries are realigned, confining Zone 5 and 6 to India only. This will ensure one R.I. director from India permanently who can concentrate on the healthy existence of the existing clubs and further extension work in India. But for this one has to move the Council On Legislation.

Rotary in India

District/ Zone/ Area/ Clubs/ Members
2980 6 Part of TamilNadu, Pondichery and Mahe 64 2585
3000 6 Part of TamilNadu 50 1871
3010 5 Delhi, Parts of Haryiana and Utter Pradesh 84 3381
3020 6 Part of Andhra Pradesh 58 1987
3030 5 Part of Maharastra 51 2263
3040 5 Parts of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh 59 1354
3050 5 Parts of Gujarat, Madhya-Pradesh and Rajasthan 94 3423
3060 5 U.T.of Daman & Diu, parts of Gujarat and Maharastra 60 2405
3070 5 Parts of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu-Kashmir and Punjab 67 2202
3080 5 U.T.of Chandigarh, Parts of Hariyana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Utter Pradesh 59 2052
3090 5 Parts of Hariyana, Punjab and Rajasthan 53 1459
3100 5 Part of Utter Pradesh 55 1513
3110 5 Parts of Madhya Pradesh and Utter Pradesh 75 2638
3120 5 Parts of Madhya Pradesh and Utter Pradesh 59 1999

3130 5 Part of Maharashtra 96 3694
3140 5 Part of Maharastra 102 4613
3150 6 Part of Andra Pradesh 45 1394
3160 6 Parts of Andra Pradesh and Karnataka 45 1226
3170 6 U.T. of Goa,Parts of Karnataka and Maharastra 92 3587
3180 6 Part of Karnataka 84 3234
3190 6 Parts of Andra Pradesh and Karnataka 57 2197
3200 6 Parts of Kerala & Tamil Nadu 96 3384
3210 6 Parts of Kerala & Tamil Nadu 98 3676
3230 6 Part of Tamil Nadu 80 2969
3240 5 Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura & North Bengal 42 1265
3250 5 Bihar 48 1821
3260 5 Parts of Madhya Pradesh and Orrisa 88 2659
3290* 5 Andaman, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim,
Tripura and West Bengal 86 3008

Total 1947/ 69,859

* Nepal is also a part of Dist.3290. The total strength of the District is 3701 Rotarians in 106 clubs.

(Figures from Official Directory 1999-2000)

Know Your Rotary, Rtn N Bhaskaran Pillai, (RGHF member)
Platinum Jubilee Book, RC Calcutta