Several residents of Mumbai have started a campaign against the Maharashtra government’s plan to re-develop the Mahalakshmi Racecourse. Known as the financial capital’s ‘green lung’, a petition being run on Change.org, has garnered more than 24,000 signatures.
Amid the protest, Municipal Commissioner IS Chahal will address an open house meeting on Thursday to present the government’s proposal. Members of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) will be given clarifications on their queries before the proposal is mooted in an extraordinary general meeting on January 30.
Dr Nilesh Baxi, a resident of Tardeo, said a public interest litigation (PIL) and a protest were also in the pipeline.
“I have been walking at this racecourse for the past two years. There is no open area like this in the entire city. If there is development here, the undisturbed view of the racing track will cease to exist and slowly there will be no races. There is also a question of Mumbai’s deteriorating air quality,” Dr Baxi said.
“The Amateur Rider’s Club is planning to file a PIL in opposition to the government’s plan. We will also protest to stop this proposal. Members of the RWITC are under pressure to ratify this proposal otherwise the lease won’t be renewed,” he added.
On the other hand, former RWITC chairman Vivek Jain said, “We will be in a better position to speak once the open house meeting is over. We have some queries which will be asked at the open house. We have the best interest of the citizens and the RWITC in mind.”
WHAT’S THE PROPOSAL?
The lease for RWITC, known as Mahalaxmi racecourse, is due for renewal. As per the last meeting of RWITC members with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde on December 6, 2023, it was decided that the Chief Minister will be able to nominate 50 people of his choice for free life membership when the racecourse lease is renewed.
Thereafter, the Chief Minister will be able to nominate three persons for free life membership every year and the municipal commissioner will be able to nominate one person every year. Out of 226 acres, 91 acres will be kept with RWITC and 120 acres will be taken for “development”.
The state government is likely to renew the RWITC lease for another 30 years. To convince horse owners to agree to this proposal, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will spend almost Rs 100 crore on rebuilding stables at the racecourse.
The RWITC has already issued a notice for an extraordinary general meeting to be held on January 30. About 75 per cent of the club’s 2,000-odd members will have to ratify for the state-RWITC deal to go through.
The campaign against the development of the racecourse was started by Tanuj Bhatia, a Mumbai resident. The campaign seeks to gain intervention from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Eknath Shinde and Maharashtra Deputy Chief Ministers Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar.
It points out that the racecourse, a Grade II-B heritage site, has been in existence for over 140 years.