Mumbai News: Plans To Convert Wilson College Ground On Marine Drive Into A Jain Gymkhana Opposed By Protestant Trust

Mumbai News: Plans To Convert Wilson College Ground On Marine Drive Into A Jain Gymkhana Opposed By Protestant Trust

On March 16, the state cabinet approved a plan to hand over the 1.02 lakh square feet ground to the Jain International Organisation (JITO) on a 30-year lease.

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Monday, March 18, 2024, 10:42 PM IST
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The state government plans to hand over the Wilson College Gymkhana on Marine Drive to the Jain community to set up their sports venue next to similar facilities run by the Hindus, Catholics, Muslims, and Parsis.  The plans have upset Protestant Christians who have inherited the educational institution set up by Scottish missionary John Wilson and his wife, Margaret. They have said they will petition the Bombay High Court and seek a stay on the transfer of the gymkhana land.     

On March 16, the state cabinet announced its plan to hand over the 1.02 lakh square feet plat to the Jain International Organisation on a 30-year lease. The gymkhana was being rented out for functions, with hardly any sports events being held on the ground. JITO had organised its ‘Mumbai Premier League’ in March 2016 at the grounds. Community groups blamed the college trust, the John Wilson Education Society (JWES), for the loss of the gymkhana. “The trust had recently renovated the gymkhana building, but it was hardly used by the community or students,” said Cyril Dara, secretary of the Christian Reform United People Association (CRUPA).

The John Wilson Education Society is part of the Church of North India (CNI), which has been in the news after its apex trust, the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association (BDTA), the members of which are not recognised by the Charity Commissioner, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a builder to sell Mazgaon’s St Pete’s School’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). The sale has been opposed by members of the community.

In the case of Wilson College, there is a similar dispute between two groups, each claiming to be the United Church of Northern India Trust Association (UCNITA), the body that manages the college premises. The management of the college property was transferred to the UCNITA from the Church of Scotland which owned the premises earlier. The JWES is in charge of the academics. Yohan Immanuel, president of UCNITA, said, “The trustees who agreed to the transfer of the gymkhana are not recognised by the authorities. We will not agree to the transfer.” 

Sanjay Singh, managing director of UCNITA said that the trust has not been informed by the government about the transfer of the lease. “We had a couple of meetings with the college trust, but there has been no communication from the government. It will be sad if it (transfer of lease to JITO). Right now it will be right to make a comment,” said Singh. 

Pratima Nikhalje, principal of the college, said that she was not aware of the transfer of the playground. “Nothing has come to us,” said Nikhalje. Dr K V Sirwaiya, former principal of the college who is also a member of the college trust, declined to comment. JITO did not respond to this newspaper’s request for a comment. 

The college has its beginnings in a school set up by the Wilsons in Girgaum in 1832. The college is older than the University of Mumbai. The land, like those managed by other gymkhanas, was leased from the government. There are allegations that the college trust allowed the lease to expire.

“This is a big set-back for the Wilson College students and the entire Christian community at large but the management of Wilson College had commercialised the gymkhana for their own vested interests and for their own benefits. There were hardly any sports activities conducted here by the Wilson College authorities but on the contrary the gymkhana was leased to third parties for commercial purposes like weddings,” said a community member.

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