The State government is pressing ahead with its ambitious heliport project at the Mahalaxmi Race Course.
The government has plans to build a heliport (a small airport suitable for helicopters) smack in the middle of the racecourse.
The government has plans to build a heliport along with an approach strip, parking facilities, fire station and other facilities in the middle of the race course. Pic/ Satyajit Desai
With that comes the approach strip, parking facilities, fire station and other infrastructure needed to support the heliport.
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This means a chunk of the land may be taken away from the racecourse and cause serious disturbance to the club’s infrastructure.
Current RWITC chairman Vivek Jain (right), with former chairman Cyrus Poonawalla (left). Pic/Nimesh Dave
Once again, therefore, the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC), Indian racing’s apex body, has a fight on its hands to save this sacred space.
Graphic/ Amit Bandre
RWITC chairman Vivek Jain speaks about the club’s toughest challenge yet. Excerpts:
Q. Is the RWITC aware of the plan to make a heliport at the Mahalaxmi Race Course?
A. Yes, they have sent us a letter on the same.
Q. Has there been any communication between the government and the RWITC with reference to this?
A. Yes, the club has sought a meeting with the relevant authorities on the issue.
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Q. What is the reaction of the club?
A. I can only say that it is unfortunate the State seems to want to go ahead with the proposal without consulting the RWITC or the users of the area, which include walkers and riders.
Q. If this heliport does comes up, does it mean that it takes over the interior of the racecourse?
A. Yes, it may mean that effectively as it will be impossible to control the usage hours, access, security, and other aspects.
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Q. Is this proposed heliport going to cut into the Amateur Riders Club (ARC) area and the ground, which is used for polo matches?
A. We are not aware of the exact location of the proposed heliport, but even if it is outside the polo ground, children ride right round the track and the noise at close quarters can definitely disturb the riders in their riding ring and potentially can cause a serious accident.
Q. Have there been any discussions with the RWITC committee on the issue?
A. Not yet, we have sought time for the same.
Q. There is no reference to the heliport issue on the club’s official website. Why is the club not keeping its members informed about the latest developments?
A. The Club’s website is primarily racing centric. Further, the State has only intimated its intention. There is no concrete proposal so far.
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Q. The lease for the club expired last year and is set to be renewed... Any news on that?
A. It is pending with the State Government.
Q. The Race Course already has one helipad. Is this needed?
A. The existing one is working fine, and at best we can upgrade it as thought fit.
Q. First, hotels, then a commercial tower, underground parking, aquarium ... the club has warded off several takeover attempts, yet this is a State Govt initiative. Do you see the racecourse eventually being taken over by this project?
A. I am optimistic that as we warded off challenges in the past, we will do so this time as well.
Choppers and equines: Finding the balance
A horse died at the Mahalaxmi racecourse in 2008, after a helicopter made an unscheduled and illegal landing on the field of the racecourse. Golden Glitter, a popular riding mare, panicked when the chopper hovered above the Amateur Riders Club (ARC) School, went berserk and crashed into a barrier, breaking a leg. It had to be put to sleep by veterinarians as the leg, broken in two, was beyond surgical help. At that time, RWITC officials had said that no permission had been given to the helicopter to land.