'Racecourse should be within common man's reach'

On World Environment Day yesterday, MiD DAY decided to pick the brains of Minister of State for Environment Sachin Ahir about what he thinks should be done with the Mahalaxmi Racecourse, in view of the current controversy over whether its lease to the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) should be renewed.

Minister of State for Environment Sachin Ahir wants that horse racing at Mahalaxmi racecourse be restricted to make way for a host of other activities and amenities on the premises

What does Ahir think is more important for the city, a racecourse or a garden, as proposed by the Shiv Sena, the ruling party in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation? The minister says the city needs the racecourse, which falls in his constituency, as it is synonymous with Mumbai.

But at the same time he wished for the course to be more inclusive. He wants that horse racing be restricted to make way for a host of other activities and amenities on the premises: such as go-karting, jogging tracks, cycle tracks, theme-based parks and so on. He also wants the state government and the BMC to be represented in the racecourse committee in the interest of better governance.

Ahir, who represents Worli constituency in the Maharashtra state assembly, met Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan earlier this week and presented his views to him. He wants a certain degree of control from the state and the BMC in the racecourse’s committee, which currently comprises RWITC members.

“There’s need for governance in the committee for the racecourse, and this can be done only by having representatives from the government and the BMC. They will keep a check on violations and other aspects that need to be governed,” said Ahir. Ahir is not on the same page as rival party Shiv Sena, which has suggested that the nearly eight lakh-square metre racecourse be turned into an international park.

“The racecourse stands to symbolise Mumbai across the country. This icon of the city has to be protected. But at the same time, we need to see that people from various social and economic strata also enjoy the facilities. Access to it shouldn’t be restricted to the elite. The racecourse needs to have space dedicated for Mumbai’s common man.”

He added, “The government should make provisions so people from economically weaker sections are given certain concessions when the ground is leased to them for any social function. That way, even they can relate to the racecourse.” After he pitched these ideas to the CM, Ahir claims that Chavan assured him he would take his suggestions into consideration before coming to a conclusion on the racecourse issue.

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