Uncertainty dogs Mumbai race course

Mumbai, May 13 (IANS) Uncertainty hangs over the future of the city’s largest playground for the rich and famous – the Royal Western India Turf Club or Mumbai race course – as its 99-year lease draws to an end this month.

Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray endorsed a suggestion to convert it into a park and name the sprawling 225-acre area, worth an estimated Rs.15,000-20,000 crore, after his father, the late party chief Bal Thackeray.

“I feel it could be a much better option to name a garden after Balasaheb (Thackeray) than naming it after any leader from the Gandhi family,” he said sarcastically.

The RWITC’s lease expires May 31 and all eyes are on the state government over its decision in the matter – to renew the lease or hand over the prime property for a public cause.

The issue came to the forefront recently when Shiv Sena’s Mayor Sunil Prabhu recommended to Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte against renewing the lease on the ground which hosts the annual Indian Derby.

Instead, he has proposed that the huge open space should be converted into a world-class theme park and thrown open to the common masses.

“This is one of the biggest open spaces in Mumbai, but it has been out of bounds for the commoners. An international level garden could be created there and opened for the general public,” Prabhu said.

Thackeray said that though they have not demanded that it should be named after the late Bal Thackeray, “if anybody moots a suggestion to this effect, we shall support it”.

He explained that the Shiv Sena-BJP controlled civic body wants to create a hi-tech park or botanical garden on the plot.

Thackeray said that global tenders could be invited to develop the 225 acres race course on the lines of Central Park, New York.

Maharashtra Congress President Manikrao Thakre said that the state government would consider the issue of RWITC’s lease renewal on the plot when the matter comes up before the state cabinet.

However, the RWITC is hopeful of getting a lease renewal and is discussing the matter with the concerned authorities.

“We are paying about Rs.50 crore to the civic administration every year and as the lease ends this month, uncertainty hangs over the 2013 racing season,” RWITC President K. Dhunjibhoy said.

RWITC, barely a few metres away from the Arabian Sea at Mahalaxmi, houses the city’s only civilian helipad and hosts the prestigious mega-bucks Indian Derby.

Over the years, it gained popularity as a coveted venue for some of the most high-profile and opulent weddings, mega-events and exclusive functions.

The annual horse racing season held here between November-April attracts the top names from glamour and entertainment fields hobnobbing with top businessmen, diamond kings and celebrities rubbing shoulders.

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