The 226-acre Mahalaxmi Racecourse, owned by the influential Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC), has a history pock-marked by controversies ranging from creating a 'water-world' to underground 'áquarium'due to its proximity to the Haji Ali Dargah sea-shore, to an underground metro car park to criss-crossing the skies above the concourse with fly-overs to a recent proposal- creation of a garden-cum-theme park on the much abused term 'international standards.'
The RWITC, having a 99-year lease expiring May-end this year, holds derbies during racing seasons and renting out the stadium and parts of racecourse for political events and high-profile weddings during off-season. As expected, last week the ruling Shiv Sena in municipal corporation sparked off a controversy not in January or in February but late April, recommending that Mumbai's iconic landmark should be converted into a public garden.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Mayor Sunil Prabhu shot off a letter to the commissioner Sitaram Kunte asking him to refrain from renewing the lease as it would be better to develop the place into an 'international standard' theme-based garden. Mayor Prabhu is not the first mayor eyeing the plot, even an earlier RWITC committee in 2004 itself had tried to get into an agreement with Pegasus Infrastructure for developing a nine-hole golf course, hotel, service apartments, club-house and exhibition-cum-convention centre on a large chunk of the plot.
An enraged Sonia Gandhi had ordered an inquiry into the controversial deal while a civil group under the banner of Public Concern for Governance Trust led by former Union Cabinet Secretary BG Deshmukh moved the Bombay High Court alleging that the project was just a cover to grab grab one of the largest open spaces. The present day reported value is pegged at Rs 25,000 crore.