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RWITC members greenlight land lease deal

  January 31 , 2024

The Royal Western India Turf Club members have greenlighted the resolution to engage in negotiations with the government, aiming to establish a theme park and other developments. This move facilitates the extension of the lease of land for the club apart from giving additional benefits. As part of this agreement, the current stables will be relocated. A theme park will be at the centre of the existing race track. It`s important to note that the race track itself will be preserved in its current state and the theme park will not hinder the full view of the races for the patrons watching the action from the stands.

Furthermore, the club has also consented to the government`s nomination of members to join the club, along with establishing an ongoing process for membership renewal each year, with a specific number to be determined.

The lease for the race course land, partly owned by the government and the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, had not been renewed for the past 14 years. Following extensive negotiations with the government, the Managing Committee, led by Surendra Sannas, accepted the government`s proposals to virtually cede control of the major portion of the land in return for the smooth conduct of its racing besides other concessions. The club sought to seek approval from the club members at a special general body meeting and the same has been obtained following the counting of E Votes on Tuesday. The members have decisively voted in favour of the resolution. Of the 708 members who cast their votes, 540 voted in support of BMC`s proposal while 168 members voted against it.

A similar attempt was made during K N Dhunjibhoy`s chairmanship, where an agreement with the private enterprise Pegasus to develop a section of the race course land and provide the club with a substantial annual payment was strongly opposed. The proposal was rejected as members collectively voted against it. There was also widespread agitation from various bodies which was firm in its belief that the lung space should be maintained in its present form. Similar proposals had been circulating for a while. However, with the government itself coming up with the proposal and considering the club`s precarious financial position, compliance seemed inevitable. The club likely couldn`t defy the government`s wishes, given the potential threat to its existence.

Surprisingly, the ease with which the proposal was accepted contrasts with the historical opposition to developing the land for any purpose. Shiv Sena leader Aditya Thackery has threatened to disrupt racing activities if the club agreed to the development of this crucial green space in the heart of the sprawling metropolis.

Historically, most turf clubs in the country, including RWITC (Royal Western India Turf Club), except Hyderabad Race Club, were hesitant to acquire land and develop new racecourses, despite ample available land and club resources placing themselves at the mercy of the government for extension of lease of land. Over time, the support for the sport waned, leading to a decline in attendance. Unfavourable punter policies and the availability of other options significantly affected patronage and hindered the effective monetization of the sport. The imposition of a 28% Goods and Services Tax (GST) on turnover dealt a severe blow to the sport, acting as a financial catastrophe for the clubs and crippling them entirely.

The BMC has proposed that, out of the 211 acres, they would acquire approximately 120 acres, while the remaining 91 acres would remain with RWITC. Suresh Sanas, the current chairman of RWITC, says that the 91-acre portion would retain essential features like race tracks, a helipad, a Grade II – B heritage grandstand, and some horse stables. The proposed new stables that are to be built at a cost of Rs 100 crores will be borne by the BMC.

The remaining 120-acre plot would accommodate jogging tracks, certain stables, the parking area, and a section of the lawn. Municipal Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal made a presentation to the members about the proposals of the government to allay the misgivings of the members. He also emphasized that no civil construction would take place, and the primary goal was to make the area universally accessible.

The renewed lease could potentially grant a number of benefits, facilitating pending renovation works. Members were of the view that the BMC did not provide a detailed project blueprint during the voting, indicating that several aspects of the project are yet to be finalized. The members were only briefed about the salient features. Many members were of the view that the club should postpone the E-voting and get concrete proposals before the voting was called for. This was rejected by the Managing Committee of the Club which went ahead with the E Voting as scheduled.

The original lease agreement between the civic body and RWITC expired in May 2013. Despite RWITC`s application for renewal, no decision was made by the state government.

The outcome remains uncertain until the proposals successfully overcome potential obstacles. Numerous challenges lie ahead, with anticipated opposition from the public and other entities opposing meddling with the city`s largest green space.

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