Mumbai: Collaborative Vision Or Hidden Agendas? BMC's Central Park Proposal Ignites Debate Amid Racecourse Controversy

Mumbai: Collaborative Vision Or Hidden Agendas? BMC's Central Park Proposal Ignites Debate Amid Racecourse Controversy

BMC moots to build a grand park sprawling 120 acres; many see plan as sly design to give access to land sharks

RUCHA KANOLKARUpdated: Saturday, February 03, 2024, 09:14 PM IST
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Mahalaxmi Racecourse | File

While the controversy surrounding the 'development' of the Mahalaxmi Racecourse continues to gain traction, the BMC's ambitious plan to build a sprawling 300-acre Mumbai Central Park on the 120 acres of the Racecourse presents a promising vision for the city's recreational future.

Suspecting that the plan will help prying land sharks to commercially exploit one of Mumbai's last remaining open spaces, the citizens and activists have vehemently opposed the BMC's idea. However, the civic body defended the move, underling the zero construction pledge of not allowing real estate endeavours. It said that the iconic Racecourse is in a dilapidated condition hence it badly needs a makeover to ward off potential safety hazards.

Chahal elaborates on situation

To allay concerns, BMC administrator Iqbal Singh Chahal recently elaborated on the concerning situation. He said, “The Mahalaxmi Racecourse issue has been pending since 2013. I have been in discussions with the managing committee of the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) for one-and-a-half years.” Apart from the lack of the Racecourse's lease renewal for the past decade, Chahal highlighted the facility's derelict affairs. “In monsoon, each building of the Racecourse is seen covered with blue plastic sheets. I have told them (RWITC) that your Racecourse has become like a slum,” asserted the BMC chief, adding that the time had come to address the issue.

Proposal introduce collaborative approach to predicament

The civic body's proposal introduced a collaborative approach to the predicament, acknowledging the shortage of public park space in Mumbai. “Today, there is a shortage of public park space in the city. Except for the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, just 140 acres out of Mumbai's one lakh acres are dedicated to the gardens,” said Chahal, adding that the plan moots co-existence of the Racecourse with a public garden. It will ensure that Mumbaikars have access to a much-needed green sanctuary.

The proposal outlined the allocation of 120 acres for public gardens, while 97 acres would continue to host the Racecourse activities. “Not even a brick will be brought there for any new construction,” Chahal assured. The broader plan envisions connecting the coastal road garden to its planned counterpart at the Racecourse. Clarifying earlier misconceptions about a “theme park”, the BMC chief emphasised, “The idea is not to make an amusement park. We thought of making four-five acres of jungle, an artificial lake, among other landscaping ideas.” He clarified that the intention was not to introduce amusement park rides, but to create an immersive green space.

Aaditya Thackeray smells rat

However, Shiv Sena (UBT) MLA Aaditya Thackeray smelled a rat. Casting aspersion on the plan, the Worli MLA argued, “During the open house, the BMC chief talked about apprehensive ideas such as building an underground car parking below the Racecourse.” Thackeray questioned its need, especially when provisions for a similar facility already exists on the coastal road. On the allocation of Rs100 crore from the BMC funds for remaking stables for the RWITC, he asked why the taxpayers' money should be used for the purpose. “It is a passion for most, sports for many. Who can buy horses can contribute to building stables,” he averred. Adding another layer to the controversy, Thackeray highlighted the provision of houses in a “nearby Slum Rehabilitation Authority” scheme for an informal settlement. He questioned the ambiguity surrounding the scheme and how it might impact BMC's finances.

Mumbai Congress President Varsha Gaikwad applauded the decision to refrain from turning the Racecourse into a “theme park”, calling it a victory in the battle to save the land. Emphasising that the public owns this space, she demanded transparency in any decisions regarding the Racecourse's future.

Highlighting the disparity in the RWITC members' support for the proposal, Gaikwad said, “Just 540 out of 1,718 members favored the divide-and-conquer scheme. Most citizens do not favor bifurcation of the Racecourse. Their voices must be heard.” She appealed to Mumbaikars and the media to maintain pressure, fighting collectively for the preservation of green spaces in the city.

Meanwhile, the Mumbai Central Park proposal will undergo lengthy procedures before becoming a reality. The process involves inking a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Racecourse, the BMC and the government, and the issuance of a government resolution. The cabinet's resolution for the lease extension will follow and the remaining area will be allocated to the civic body.

In short, there is no end to the city's relentless pursuit of green spaces as of now.

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