by Editorial Desk January 17 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 41 secs

The Mahalakshmi Race Course is part of Mumbai's heritage and has stood the test of time. It is a symbol of Mumbai's cultural and historical richness, reports The Daily Eye #Newsdesk.

The Mahalakshmi Race Course is a historic horse racing venue located in Mumbai, India. It was established in 1883 by Sir C.N. Wadia, a prominent industrialist and philanthropist. It was initially known as the Western India Turf Club. Situated in the heart of Mumbai, the racecourse is located in the Mahalakshmi area, near the Arabian Sea and boasts impressive architectural heritage, with the grandstand designed by the renowned architect Sir Charles Frederick Stevens.

Over the years, the racecourse has become more than just a venue for horse racing. It is a cultural and social hub. Historically, the venue has witnessed a mix of aristocrats, celebrities, and the general public attending races and socializing. Not only is it an open space but also a green space with hundreds of old trees. It is frequented by thousands of citizens daily for walking, jogging, yoga, football, cricket, horse riding, or just to relax and sit on the grass. Children and dogs are brought here to play and enjoy the fresh air and greenery.

It is renowned for hosting some of the most prestigious horse racing events in India, including the Indian Derby. The Indian Derby is one of the most significant and prestigious horse races in the country, drawing top horses, jockeys, and trainers. The horse racing industry, with Mahalakshmi Race Course at its forefront, contributes significantly to the local economy. It generates employment, stimulates tourism, and supports various related industries.

While the Mahalakshmi Race Course has faced challenges and debates over land use and development, its historical and cultural significance has led to its preservation and continued operation. It remains an integral part of Mumbai's social and sporting landscape.

And now, as per CM Eknath Shinde’s orders to reserve 120 acres of land for theme park, Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) can use  only 91 acres for race course operations for 30 years. As part of the new terms that it has laid down for the renewal of the lease of the Mahalaxmi Race Course, the state government has asked the RWITC to hand over 120 acres of land to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for a proposed theme park. It will give the remaining 91 acres of land to the RWITC for running the race course operations on lease for 30 years, till 2053. The Chief Minister gave the instructions last month at a meeting that was held at his official residence Varsha, which was attended by four members of RWITC and BMC administrator Iqbal Singh Chahal.

During the meeting, the RWITC had requested that while entering into a new lease agreement or renewing the existing lease agreement, two separate agreements should be executed firstly for a period of 10 years from June 1, 2013 to May 31, 2023 and then for a period of 30 years from June 1, 2023 to May 31, 2053 simultaneously.

A campaign against the state government/BMC's proposal to take away a large chunk of land from the RWITC is gaining momentum, with many citizens opposing the "destruction" of the sprawling racecourse at Mahalaxmi. Started by Tanuj Bhatia on January 13, it has garnered thousands of signatures, with over 6,000 persons signing on the first day. Several thousand more are expected to join the campaign as news of the BMC's controversial proposal spreads. The petition is addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Ministers Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar. 

The petition points out that the racecourse, a Grade II-B heritage site, has been in existence for over 140 years. It comprises an open space of around 230 acres of natural terrain. The only structures within this open space are stables for horses, stands to view the races, and some offices of RWITC, all of which are ancillary and necessary for horse racing.

Says Tina Sutaria, one of the concerned citizens, “The R.W.I.T.C apart from being a hallowed institution, training ground for young riders and a fabulous club with outdoor facilities, stables for horses and the obvious race course, is probably the largest green lung in South Bombay. Theme parks have not been successful in India and to destroy a natural green carpet for a mechanical structure, defeats every purpose the race course was begun for. Do Hyde Park and Central Park have theme parks in them? Why are other cities wearing their parks with pride? WE DONT NEED OR WANT SUCH A PARK. We would like at least one part of Mumbai to remain untouched by the building lobby and politicians please”.

It is  indeed the main, if not the only, green lung of Mumbai, and its importance to the lives of Mumbaikars cannot be undermined. It is the lifeline of Mumbaikars. The aim, rather unfortunately, of the Chief Minister’s proposal is to: 

- Develop a theme park in the racecourse, including hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, and other entertainment places, restricting citizens' access to the racecourse.

- Construct multi-storied residential and commercial buildings and complexes by following the slum rehabilitation route, allowing developers to build inside the racecourse.  

- Give a donation of nearly Rs. 100 Crores to RWITC to build an exclusive modern clubhouse and stables for itself, using public funds to finance a private club.  

- Build an exclusive modern clubhouse, which means that a large part of the racecourse will become a full-fledged club only for the members of RWITC, resulting in further deprivation of open space to the public.

- Change the present reservation of the racecourse as a Recreation Ground (RG) to achieve the above.

- Divide the racecourse between the State Government/MCGM and RWITC, controlling access to the racecourse.

- Change the plan, which designates certain areas as a public garden to theme park, hotels, restaurants, towers, residential, and build commercial complexes. 

- Enable large-scale concretisation of the ground, presently permeable, consisting of mud or grass, resulting in the deprivation of open space and green lung for Mumbaikars.

Reacting to the decisions taken during the meeting, Shiv Sena UBT MLA and former minister Aaditya Thackeray slammed the state government and termed it a land grab deal for the builder friend of the CM. Objecting to the decision taken during the meeting, Aaditya has reportedly said, “They have agreed to the virtual sell out and land grab of the 230 acre open space. 91 acres will be kept with the RWITC and the rest will be taken for “development” by the BMC. 30 years of lease agreement will be signed for RWITC and BMC will spend almost Rs 100 crores on rebuilding stables at the race course to influence the other horse owners to agree to this proposal”.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.