'Leave Mahalaxmi Racecourse Alone,' Writes Mumbai Activist Zoru Bhathena

'Leave Mahalaxmi Racecourse Alone,' Writes Mumbai Activist Zoru Bhathena

The sprawling 200 acres comprises a horse race track, with 75 acres of open ground at the centre, tree-covered stables, grand stands, a huge parking lot, and several acres of open space that is open to the public, for free, on all days of the year.

Zoru BhathenaUpdated: Wednesday, February 07, 2024, 01:16 PM IST
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Mahalaxmi Racecourse | File

Mahalaxmi Racecourse is much in the news today, courtesy the leaked minutes of a meeting held between the Chief Minister, BMC commissioner and committee members of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC), where a plan to build an amusement park was revealed; a plan that the government now seems to have backtracked on.

To understand what this controversy is all about, we need to delve into history. In the late 1800s, a large part of the Racecourse land is said to have been donated by Sir Cusrow N Wadia to the government for horse racing. The government (BMC) then leased this land to RWITC, a private club.

The sprawling 200 acres comprises a horse race track, with 75 acres of open ground at the centre, tree-covered stables, grand stands, a huge parking lot, and several acres of open space that is open to the public, for free, on all days of the year. Entry to the public is restricted only on the 25-odd race days of a year, that too only during race timings.

People may have different opinions of the merits and demerits of horse racing, but it’s an undisputed fact that over 200 acres of open land in Mumbai have remained open, thanks to the Racecourse; and that this public open space has been well looked after and maintained by the private RWITC club over all these years.

Nearly 20 years ago, it was RWITC that had proposed to build an amusement park here; this proposal was stalled by the public. Currently, it is the government proposing it, which has found favour with RWITC. Besides the race track, there is also an amateur riders club, where the public can join and learn riding. In fact, thousands and thousands of Mumbaikars have experienced the joys of horse riding here; an unparalleled experience for Mumbai city.

The open grounds are open to all members of the public for free. Lakhs of Mumbaikars use it for their daily walks and any plans to develop it into an amusement park must be opposed. Any claim by the government that they want to 'convert' this into a public open space is patently false, as it is already an open space.

The deal between the government and RWITC involves shifting the stables and rebuilding the race stands. The state has allocated nearly Rs100 crore to pay for this shift; Rs100 crore of public money to shift stables and stands to make already open space open for the public? This proposal itself smells of horse dung!

Whatever be the deal, members of the public must keep vigil to ensure that this existing public open space remains ‘open’ and ‘public’. We must not allow our government to gamble away our existing open spaces. Moreover, public money must not be spent to move private clubs facilities from one spot to the other.

Merging the existing open space of the Racecourse with the proposed open spaces of the coastal road can easily be done by re-aligning one or two roads of the coastal road to make a road underpass for cars. Not an inch of the Racecourse needs to be touched or cemented for merging these two open spaces. If our government’s intentions are honest, this is the only way forward.

(Zoru Bhathena is a noted environmental activist)

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