Mumbai Local

Sena renews demand to turn racecourse into park

The 226-acre Mahalaxmi racecourse at Worli in the heart of Mumbai has been hosting horse races since 1883.— Photo: Shantanu Das

The 226-acre Mahalaxmi racecourse at Worli in the heart of Mumbai has been hosting horse races since 1883.— Photo: Shantanu Das  

Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray on Tuesday reiterated the party’s three-year-old demand to turn Mumbai’s iconic Mahalaxmi racecourse in to a park on par with gardens in major cities of the world.

Mr Thackeray held a meeting with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday with this demand. The 226-acre racecourse at Worli in the heart of Mumbai has been hosting horse races since 1883.

Over the years, it has become both a magnet and a muse for many Mumbaikars, with many, and not just racing lovers, from across the city descending on the oval-shaped, sea-facing expanse of green.

The racecourse is open to the public from early morning until 10 a.m. and later in the day, from 4 to 7 p.m., even during the racing season that stretches between November and April. It is closed during afternoon on race days.

The lease of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) lapsed in May, 2013, when the Sena first raised the demand to shift the racecourse out of Mumbai and set up a garden there.

The then Congress- Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government kept the matter pending but did not renew the lease either. With the civic elections round the corner, the party has raised the issue again.

Of the total racecourse area, two-third is with the government, while one-third is owned by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

“It’s 226 acres of green patch that is lying unused, except for a few horse races (that are held here). Since the lease is over, the government can easily move it out of Mumbai and relocate it at a much bigger place, somewhere in Navi Mumbai or Raigad. This can be converted in to a green park,” said Mr. Thackeray, after meeting Mr. Fadnavis. He added that the government could even hold an international competition inviting designs for the park, which can be named Mumbai Park and will remain open for the public 24 hours. The Sena had even prepared a presentation to develop it in to a park.

Vivek Jain, former Chairman of the RWITC, told The Hindu that the club had made several representations to the past and present governments to renew the lease. “This is a genuine green lung of the city. We have said earlier that a park and horse racing can coexist here. Except for the racing days, the racecourse is always open to the public,” said Mr. Jain.

According to Mr. Jain, the club pays around Rs 50 crore a year to the government through taxes on betting, entertainment and also for licences, ground rent and water charge. “The government gives us a licence every year to hold races. From the very fact that we get permissions from the government, it is clear that we are not doing any illegal activity,” he said. He said he had held a meeting with the Chief Minister and interacted with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray over the matter. “We hope for a positive outcome,” he said.

Activists ridiculed the idea of a park, calling it a ploy to grab the land. “What is a green park? Isn’t the racecourse green and open right now? Why is there any need to change its usage? Politicians want everything in their control,” said Rajkumar Sharma, environmentalist and coordinator with AGNI. He added that a few years later, the garden might also turn in to an area reserved for a low-cost housing project.

Disapproving the idea, environmentalist Rishi Agarwal said the while the public use of the racecourse could be enhanced, to change the basic nature and flavour of the place would not be an advantageous move.

“To change it completely will not be a good idea. The racecourse gives a sense of wide open space, which the city needs badly, whereas a theme park will be cluttered. You should not give with one hand and take from the other, which is likely to happen if the racecourse is completely changed,” Mr Agarwal said.

(With inputs from Rahi Gaikwad)

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 4:12:56 PM |

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