Every time an Indian Derby is done and dusted with, it is time to reflect just how important the Mahalaxmi racecourse is to Mumbai. In a city bursting at its seams and where concrete is king, this blue riband of the Indian turf, hammers home the importance of preserving the lungs of South Mumbai, retain its original character as a centre for horse racing and, when off-season, as a recreational space for Mumbaikars.
Even during season and especially off it, this bowl of green is used extensively by fitness enthusiasts, the inside ring is used for football, aero-modelling, polo and, of course, the Amateur Riders Club (ARC) has its home here. There have been several attempts to usurp the space for commercial purposes. Years ago, a developer was trying to turn the racecourse into a hub of fancy hotels, and other facilities for commercial purposes.
A former sheriff had proposed a tall commercial tower while a former mayor was looking at Mahalaxmi as a car park. This year is very crucial for the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC), the apex body of racing in Western India. Middle of this year, the club’s lease, which was renewed by the BMC in 2004, comes up for renewal once again. While this is not to sound alarmist, there is plenty of chatter about how the club has a real fight on its hands to preserve this prime land for racing and with that, consequently, as an open space for citizens.
While there are several interested parties arguing about how the racecourse can be used to generate even more funds for the state, not everything can be valued in funds and money even in this age of hard-boiled commercialism. Let the citizens be custodians of the racecourse and let it never slip away from our hands to the land sharks.