iconimg Thursday, September 03, 2015

HT Correspondent , Hindustan Times
Mumbai, May 14, 2013
With the lease of the epochal 225-acre Mahalaxmi racecourse set to expire on May 31, the controversy surrounding the plot has peaked. While the Shiv Sena has demanded the plot be taken back from Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) and converted into a theme park, speculations are rife that the party’s intends to build a memorial for its late chief Bal Thackeray on the land. RWITC has requested chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to renew the lease for 30 years.

Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray on Monday reiterated Mayor Sunil Prabhu’s recent demand and said the land be handed back to the Sena–BJP-run Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to develop a garden that can be accessed by everyone. Responding to speculations about Sena wanting to build a memorial, Thackeray said, “We would welcome such a proposal.”

HT had reported on May 4 that Prabhu had written to municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte asking him not to renew the lease. But Sena’s demand may come a cropper as it has been revealed that nearly two-thirds of the plot is owned by the state government, giving it complete authority to take a final call on lease renewal.

Prabhu denied allegations about Sena’s desire to build a memorial on the plot. “Our demand is that a garden of international standards be developed on the land, which the people of the city can have access to. There is no mention of a memorial in any of my letters,” he said.

With the renewal of the lease and maintenance of the plot likely to become a political issue, civic officials said a decision on the lease is likely to take time.

Considering the numerous violations by the lessee that have come to the fore over the years (see graphic), civic officials said it is crucial for the BMC to ensure the plot is made accessible to the common people.

“Once the lease expires, the land will be owned by the BMC in the interim phase, till a decision is taken on the renewal of the lease,” said a senior civic official.