The history of Rotary in the Indian sub-continent dates back to the very early days of Rotary. In 1919 R. J. Coombs, manager of a steel products company, impressed and inspired by the ideals of Rotary during his visit to the United States, organized the Rotary Club of Calcutta. The first meeting on 20th September 1919 paved way for the charter to be presented on 1st January 1920 with 20 non-Indians as charter members. Interestingly, the first Indian to be a Rotary was Surendra Banerjee who was made an honorary member of the club. This was followed by S. C. Rundra who became the first Indian to become a full-fledged Rotarian with the classification of Mining Engineer. Within a fewyears, in 1926 Nitish Laharry was elected the first Indian to be the secretary of this club and A. E. M. Abdul Ali was the first Indian to be elected president of a Rotary club.
In 1927, the Rotary Club of Lahore was chartered followed by Rotary Club of Bombay in 1929 by Jim Davidson. Rotary Club of Bombay which started with 38 members, of which Sir Pheroze Sethna, a member of the Legislative Assembly was the only Indian, became the largest Rotary club in India. In Delhi too, a Rotary Club was organized by Jim Davidson on 26th April 1929. However, the club was closed down in 1931 for various reasons. The untiring efforts of Jim Davidson along with F. C. James saw Rotary enter the Deccan with the formation of Rotary Club of Madras in 1929. Rotary Club of Bangalore was chartered on 27th October 1934 and was the seventh club in the pre-Independence India.
Although Rotary Districts were established for the first time in 1912, clubs in India, Burma, Ceylon, Malayasia, Java and Siam did not come under any District. They were grouped together as the IBCMJS area and placed under the charge of Hony Commissioner Sir Fredirick E. James, a past president (1924-26) of Rotary Club of Calcutta. In 1931, India, Burma and Ceylon were formed into provisional District A’ and commissioner F. E James continued in charge.
On 1st July 1936, Rotary International decided that Rotary clubs in India, having increased to 24 from 16, in recognition of the numbers, should be granted District status. Rotary clubs in Afghanistan, Burma, Ceylon and India (including present Pakistan) were reconstituted into R.I. District No. 89 with Rm. Fredrick E. James, OBE as the District Governor.
In 1939-40, District 89 was divided into two District 88 and District 89. District 88 covered areas of Burma, Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Kashmir, Sind, Baluchistan, North West Frontier Province, Rajputana, Central Indian States and Jabalpur. District 89 comprised of Southern India and Ceylon. By the time India became independent, there were 71 Rotary clubs 14 in Gujarat, 10 in Maharashtra, 10 in Uttar Pradesh, 7 in Tamil Nadu, 7 in Karnataka and 23 in another 10 sates with a total membership of 3121.
The first conference of Provision District A’ was held in 1932 at Calcutta with Sir. F. E. James as the first Governor and total registration of 39. The 1934 and 1936 conferences were held at Bombay and Bangalore respectively. Up to 1936, R. I. President was not represented at the conference and there was no conference in 1934-35.
In 1968-69, Pakistan became a separate District and by 1970-71, the number of districts in India was 12. During the 70s, the number of clubs which stood slightly above 300, more than doubled in the next ten years. The same tempo continued in the first half of 80s also. In 1980-81 there were 899 clubs in India in 14 R.I. Districts with a membership of 35,172 Rotarians.
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 1,654 Rotary clubs in 28 Districts and number of Rotarians was 58,777. In 1996 there was a remarkablegrowth of Rotary in India. Thanks to Calagary Challenge as many as 133 clubs werechartered in 1996. In 1995 the number of new clubs was only 74.
- 1931-32: Provisional district’A’
- 1936-37: OneDistrict89
- 1939-40: Two Districts 88,89
- 1942-43: Four Districts 88,89,90,91,92 & 94
- 1949-60: Re-numbered 50,51,52,53,54,55 & 56
- 1952-53: Five Districts 51,52,53,54,55
- 1957-58: Re-numbered 305,310,315^320 & 325
- 1959-60: Six Districts 305,310,315,317,320 & 325
- 1968-69: Seven Districts: 305,307 (Pak), 310,315,317,320 & 325
- 1970-71: Thirteen Districts 305, 306, 307 (Pak), 310, 311, 314, 315, 317, 318, 320,321,325 & 326
In 1971-72 Bangladesh came into existence, but the clubs remained with Pakistan in District 307. In 1973-74, the seven clubs in Bangladesh were transferred to District 325 in India. In 1977-78 radical reshuffling took place, the reshuffle resulted in 319 being carved out of 318. The clubs in Delhi were divided between Districts 309 and 310 making it 15 districts in total. In 1984-85 total redistricting throughout India was done according to revenue districts; the clubs in Delhi were amalgamated into District 301 and the clubs in Bangladesh were transferred to a new District.
The year 1984 also saw the inauguration of the South Asia Service Centre at Delhi. The 1955 Council on Legislation replaced the regions by 34 Zones. Zones 5 and 6 cover India. Zone 6 includes South India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei.