I am an 84-year-old army veteran and a member of the Royal Western India Turf Club Ltd (RWITC). I am a post-graduate in civil engineering from IIT-Bombay and have planned and executed several large-scale civil projects. I have sufficient knowledge about the creation of theme parks and am outlining my views fearlessly, with malice towards none, for the good of the citizens of Mumbai.
On December 6, 2023, a proposal was discussed for an international theme park at Mahalaxmi Racecourse; 120 acres of land is to be reserved for the theme park and 91 acres are to be leased out to RWITC for 10 years from June 1, 2013 to May 31, 2023, and a further period of 30 years from Jun 1, 2023 to May 31, 2053. The issue about the club, shifting of the stables and memberships has been widely covered by the media. There are silent adverse whispers by the public and some NGOs that in the garb of a theme park, there would be massive commercial exploitation of the public land by authorities/ persons other than the Chief Minister and the Municipal Commissioner, both of whom I hold in high esteem by my personal assessment. Some relevant issues, though, appear to have been overlooked.
A public interest litigation (No. 2065 of 2004) filed by Public Concern for Governance Trust before the Bombay High Court has prayed for several reliefs in the matter. The petition is pending for final hearing. Interestingly, the state government, the BMC and RWITC, who are working on the theme park proposal and renewal of the lease deed, were parties to the said writ petition and therefore any steps being taken now do not appear to be in order. It may subject the parties to contempt.
Some reliefs sought are: no lease be granted except for horse-racing and use by members of the general public or playgrounds; ensure that the land, other than the race track, viewing stands and training enclosures, are developed into playgrounds for the use of the general public, and that suitable access roads are provided; calling for the records of the case relating to the sanctions/ approvals/ permissions, if any, granted for any development and/ or construction.
The Mahalaxmi Race course is one of the largest and last surviving open spaces of south-central Mumbai, which is spread over 226 acres. In 1933, pursuant to the enactment of the City of Bombay Municipal (Amendment) Act, 1933, which inserted section 91A in the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act, 1888, all lands previously vested in its board of trustees came to be vested in the BMC.
Plot No. 1(j) of Schedule W to the said BMC Act is the land presently known as the racecourse. Significantly, this land was appropriated by statute as a "permanent open space," subject only to being let out for use as a race course or for purposes of public amusement and recreation. If the government has a specific plan to create a theme park, it should be incorporated in the lease deed itself and developed by RWITC under directions of the civic body/government, who will also contribute funds.
However, a theme park, with the infrastructure construction attached to such developments, is not permissible under the Act since the land is appropriated as permanent open space and irrevocable in view of section 91(a)(b). It is apparent that citizens will be deprived of vital open spaces and playgrounds and that deprivation of these spaces violates their fundamental rights under Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India. These open spaces are being used by citizens for almost 70 years free of cost at limited timing, which will be interrupted.