Mumbai: Wilson College Alumni And Staff To Meet On Sunday, Discuss Gymkhana Return

Mumbai: Wilson College Alumni And Staff To Meet On Sunday, Discuss Gymkhana Return

The lease for the ground held by the gymkhana has apparently expired and there have been accusations that the college management, the John Wilson Education Society, did not do anything to continue the lease.

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Friday, March 22, 2024, 12:18 AM IST
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Wilson College | File pic

Staff members and alumni of Wilson College, one of the oldest colleges in the city, are meeting on Sunday to discuss a plan to get back their college grounds that the government is planning to hand over to a Jain community group.

On March 16, the Maharashtra cabinet announced that the 1.02 lakh-square-feet Wilson College Gymkhana ground will be handed over to an organisation which has plans to build a Jain Gymkhana next to similar facilities run by the Hindus, Catholics, Muslims, Parsis, Grant Medical College, and the Maharashtra police. The lease for the ground held by the gymkhana has apparently expired and there have been accusations that the college management, the John Wilson Education Society, did not do anything to continue the lease.  

The reports that their college and its associated schools could lose its playground has dismayed Wilsonians, as former students call themselves. Daniel Francis of the Wilson College Alumni Society, said that he was anguished at the idea that the college could lose its century-old gymkhana.

"News that the lease renewal did not happen and that it was given to a new party has enraged students. Wilson College, St Columba School, and Wilson High School are from the same family and the sentiment is that what has happened is wrong. The college management was responsible for maintaining the grounds and renewing the lease,” said Francis who added that students and college staff were of the view that they should fight to get the gymkhana back. “The principal (of the college) was asked to explain and her reply was that the earlier management was responsible for what happened.”

Michelle Phillips, head of the department of English at the college, and a former principal-in-charge, said that they had an inkling that they could lose the ground. “The grounds used to be rented out for functions and were left unusable for sports. “There were occasions when we had to hold the college’s sports events at the university grounds because our own gymkhana was rented out for weddings and other events,” said Phillips. “The lease on the ground was not being paid and I had warned them we would lose the gymkhana if we did not act fast.”

Students said that the ground helped the college produce athletes and cricketers who excelled at university sports meets. Sudeep Sonawane, a former journalist, who studied at the college between 1977 and 1982, remembered the strong sea breeze in the afternoon helping fast bowlers like him. “The gymkhana building reminded you of a colonial-style cottage with red floor tiles and wooden pillars. There were photographs of players near the table tennis table. The ground did not have much grass and people used the ground for walking,” said Sonawane.  

A businessman, who studied for a humanities degree from the college in the late 1970s said that it was not just the students who will feel the loss of the gymkhana ground. Young people from Girgaum, which is just across the railway line, have been playing in the ground for generations,” said the former student.

Students said that Sunday’s meeting at the college will gather opinion from students and decide on the further course of action to reclaim their college grounds. Community groups are also making plans to legally challenge the plans, said Cyril Dara, secretary of the Christian Reform United People Association (CRUPA). A meeting was reportedly held in Delhi between community trusts responsible for the management of the college and the gymkhana.

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