Even as the Mumbai racing season galloped off to a promising start yesterday evening, the spotlight is on a deal between a city developer and the Mahalaxmi Turf Club, one that had fallen through 12 years ago
An aerial view of the Mahalaxmi racecourse, the emerald of SoBo and lung for the citizens. Pic/Rane Ashish
In 2004, developer Pegasus was at the centre of a storm following a deal he had struck with the turf club of Mahalaxmi to develop the racecourse. Green activists, politicians and Mumbaikars had swooped down to protect the racecourse and stop its “sell out”.
People seen enjoying Day 1 of the new racing season at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse on Sunday. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Now, Pegasus, or developer Shobhit Rajan, to give him his proper name, is back and the deal might be revived, though current chairman of Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) says it is in a diluted avatar. Rajan, always elusive to the media, refused to give his picture even now. He spoke about the Mahalaxmi proposal.
You are reviving a 2004 deal with RWITC. Is that true?
It is correct that we are continuing talks with the RWITC. The agreement is subsisting and valid and definitely not defunct. Arbitration was invoked by the RWITC and Pegasus under a clause in the agreement and the same has presently been held back since discussions are ongoing. We have had several meetings with the RWITC committee and we have another towards the end of the month.
What does this development entail specifically? Two clubhouses are going to come up at the racecourse?
There is a mini clubhouse, presently being used by its members. The same was proposed to be entirely updated. The other was to be developed for RWITC by the conductor (Pegasus), on the northwest side of the plot.
In 2004, you had planned a hotel, a convention centre and a golf course, right in the middle of the racecourse. Would you elaborate on that?
That was the incorrect image built at that time, largely based on rumours. The racecourse cannot have any development in the centre. There was going to be no hotel or convention centre in the centre. The centre, in fact, was proposed be utilised for a new polo ground, Nana Nani park, children’s play areas and a small man-made lake to conserve and retain rainwater from harvesting. The lake was to have musical, sound and light fountains. The proposal entailed a slightly elevated walking track on the outer periphery of the racing track, which would have a restroom and drinking water facilities. Further, we wanted to bring in a swimming pool and tennis court in the centre, which could be used on non-racing days by the public and members alike. There are plans for an amphitheatre too.
How much is the deal worth to the RWITC?
Under the proposal, we would be paying the club Rs 135 crore.
Why should people trust you? The last time around people protested against the takeover of SoBo’s green lung...
Takeover? We were appointed as conductors. In fact, given the opportunity, the plan should first be seen by the people. We have also appointed global leaders, who reinvent cities and develop sustainable open spaces in the world, as advisors.
History has shown us that give builders an inch, they will take a yard...
Let’s not talk about builders. There are all kinds of fish in the sea. If there are any doubts, which there are bound to be, environmentalists, and anyone who wishes to, will always have the plans available from the RWITC as well as the Right to Information (RTI) Act to see what we have proposed.
At what stage is this deal currently?
We have already held meetings with the RWITC. We have another meeting towards the end of this month. We first have to submit all proposals to the RWITC; it will scrutinise those and then submit them to the BMC. Citizens and environmentalists will have a say for sure. We would be glad to go through that scrutiny.
Politicians have eyed the racecourse...
If they (the politicians) wanted it, they would have done something by now. Today, after the designs are shared with the city, we would like Mumbaikars to ask why should we not want this? It is our responsibility to convince everyone.
Why is architect Noshir Talati in the picture? Buzz is that Pegasus is a ‘front’ for him. What does that mean?
He is one of the finest architects of the city and is a minority shareholder of Pegasus. In fact, when I told him about it, he laughed.