Setting up a heliport at Mahalaxmi racecourse will deny public access to the much required open space. This is what the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has told the state government in its report submitted recently.
Q Who owns the racecourse land?
The government and BMC jointly own the racecourse land, which was leased to the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) for maintenance. The lease agreement had expired on May 31 last year, following which the government had sought a report from the BMC before taking a call regarding renewing/cancelling the lease agreement with RWITC.
At the same time, the Shiv Sena, one of the ruling parties in BMC, has been opposing the extending of the lease period for RWITC and it insists on developing a theme park on the 225-acre plot instead. The party had also submitted a proposal in this regard to the BMC, which forwarded the same to the government on June 6, 2013.
Q What does the govt want to do?
On the other hand, the government started taking steps towards setting up a full-fledged heliport at the racecourse site. The Maharashtra Airport Development Company (MADC), an agency of the Congress-NCP government, had in June this year demanded the BMC to hand over the section of land it owns at the racecourse in view of developing the heliport. The corporation owns a 2,58,245.44 sq metre area of the racecourse, while the remaining portion of 5,96,953.34 sq metres is with the government. Construction of the heliport will require 19 acres of land.
In the wake of these developments, the corporation has cleared its stand to the government.
"The government will need central portion of the racecourse land to set up the heliport facility. It will also need to barricade the heliport region in view of safety. Plus, vehicular movement will increase as heliport operations begin at the site concerned.
In view of this, we feel people are likely to be denied access to the huge open space," a senior civic official said, wishing not to be named.
Q People use the open space for walking, jogging
Even as the decision over extending/terminating the lease agreement with the RWITC is yet to be taken, people continue use the open space for morning walks and jogging purposes. "Once the heliport comes up here, people may lose the access they have right now. Hence, we have submitted our say to the government. The final decision in this regard though remains with the government," the official added.
Meanwhile, BMC's negative remark assumes significance in view of assembly elections as Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, while presenting the party's vision document earlier this month, had promised turning the racecourse into a theme park.
"Our party continues to oppose the plan of racecourse. We are for a theme park for public. People must have access to open areas in this space-starved city," Trushna Vishwasrao, House leader in the BMC and a Shiv Sena corporator, said.
Despite repeated attempts, civic chief Sitaram Kunte could not be reached for his comment.
Q Activists welcome BMC's move
Civic activists have welcomed BMC's stand. "It is for the first time the BMC has spoken in defence of open spaces. The state government's heliport idea is nothing but a plan to encroach public area for the convenience of VVIPs. Hence, we are happy to know that the BMC has taken a stand in the interest of common public. Hope they take a similar stand in connection with other open spaces too," said Rajkumar Sharma, a civic activist attached to city-based NGO AGNI.
Q Govt's heliport plan
The government plans to set up the heliport on a 19-acre area. The heliport is proposed to have a landing facility over an area of 600 metres, rest rooms for fliers/VVIPs, fire station. The heliport is proposed to have an approach from the Haji Ali side of the racecourse.
The government had also procured nod from the Airport Authority of India (AAI) for setting up a day-night heliport at the said site in May this year.
Q BMC's theme park plan
Shiv Sena's construction-less theme park plan proposes providing platform for recreational, socio-cultural, entertainment and physical activities comprising development of water bodies, waterfalls, amphitheatre, arts and crafts markets, jogging tracks, playgrounds, water sports, tennis, rock climbing, cricket, tennis, etc.