Mumbai News: Wilson College Moves Bombay High Court To Reacquire Marine Drive Gymkhana

Mumbai News: Wilson College Moves Bombay High Court To Reacquire Marine Drive Gymkhana

The college also announced the appointment of a committee to inquire into the circumstances that led to the loss of its century-old gymkhana on Marine Drive

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Monday, March 25, 2024, 09:48 PM IST
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Wilson College | File pic

After allegations that Wilson College in Chowpatty had deliberately allowed the institution's lease on its gymkhana on Marine Drive to expire, letting the state to hand over the land to the Jain community, the college said that a writ petition has been filed in the Bombay High Court to challenge the cancelation of the college's lease on the ground. The college also announced the appointment of a committee to inquire into the circumstances that led to the loss of its century-old gymkhana on Marine Drive. 

Questions raised over credibility of the committee

However, alumni and members of the Protestant Christian community have questioned the credibility of a committee that may include college officials who are suspected of having deliberately allowed the college to lose the lease. They have said that the petition should be filed by the community, alumni, or students, and not the college management accused of allowing the lease to be transferred to another party. Sudhakar Solomonraj, adjunct professor and former head of the department of political science at the college who was present at the meeting, said, "There was no due process to renew the lease. There was no transparency."

Alumni, staff members meeting

On Sunday, alumni and staff members met at the college to plan legal action to recover the ground. They passed a resolution saying that they did not have faith in the college and community trusts. Michelle Philip, head of the Department of English said it was heartening to see the alumni's response to the call to save the gymkhana. "Led by Daniel Francis and advocate  Rajan Jayakar, they showed that they meant business. Under their leadership I am sure we can expect some action as they expressed their concerns and insistence on being part of any management committee to review the matter," said Philip. 

FPJ

K V Sirwaiya, the former principal accused of allowing the lease to expire, said, "I was not present at the meeting but I sent a message to be read out. They wanted a background on the issue." Sirwaiya added that the writ petition was filed on March 22.

Community members collecting information on the events said that the college management did not act fast to retain the lease. On March 16, the Maharashtra government approved a 1.02 lakh- square feet plot at Marine Lines, Mumbai for a gymkhana for the Jain community on a 30-year lease. The land was under the management of the college's principal and governed by the John Wilson Education Society. The lease of the gymkhana land is with the United Church of North India Trust Association (UCNITA) which took over the property from the Church of Scotland.

The last lease deed between the government and UCNITA in September 1998 expired in December 1999. After the announcement of a new lease policy, the government allowed the college to use the gymkhana at a higher lease rent. Meanwhile, the UCNITA is alleged to have signed agreements with private companies to use the land for commercial events.

After an inquiry into mismanagement of the plot and violation of lease rules, the District Collector, on December 5, 2023, decided to take over the land. This was challenged by UCNITA before the Maharashtra Revenue Tribunal Court, which on March 11, 2024, dismissed the appeal and confirmed the order of the District Collector.

Cyril Dara, advocate and secretary of the Christian Reform United People Association, said that  UCNITA filed a Writ Petition in the Bombay High Court on March 22, challenging the tribunal's order.

"Unfortunately after a gap of 11 days, the order of the MRT Court was challenged and a Writ Petition was filed, that too only after the message went viral that the gymkhana land was going to be handed over to the Jain community, even though the certified order copy of the MRT Court was collected on 11 March 2024 same day of order itself," said Dara. "The Government pleader filed a caveat before the High Court on the same day (March 11), but the UCNITA has challenged the MRT order on March 22."

Community members said that the UCNITA Managing Director has been removed by the Church of North India Synod, and a new temporary head has been appointed. There are demands that the government should appoint administrators to continue sports activities on the ground.

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