There is growing opposition to chief minister Prithviraj Chavan's proposal for a heliport at the Mahalaxmi racecourse.
The Joggers and Walkers Association formed by people who use the racecourse regularly started a signature campaign on Sunday morning opposing the "absurd" proposal.
Said Mitali Shirodkar, former president of the association: ``We are shocked at this proposal. The racecourse is one of the few remaining open spaces in the city. I don't understand how anyone could have even thought of having a heliport there," she told dna on Sunday.
She said her association is considering initiating a public interest litigation (PIL) to stop the proposal from taking off.
Viren Shah, president of the Federation of Retail Traders' Associations, who is a regular at the racecourse, said: "The noise at the heliport will be harmful not only to citizens but also to the horses. The poor animals will be scared by the noise generated by the helicopters, especially since the heliport is being designed to operate day and night. We will oppose the proposal tooth and nail.
"The heliport will benefit only a handful of people. It's shocking that for the benefit of a few people, the rest of the citizens are being put to inconvenience. This project should be scrapped totally."
However, Pradip Palshetkar, a businessman, said: "I think the heliport will be in the interest of Mumbaikars. Today, VIP convoys coming from and going to the airport cause traffic jams across the metropolis. If VIPs are transported to and from the heliport, it will obviate these traffic snarls. But, the heliport should be used only for VIPs."
Mayor Sunil Prabhu reiterated his strong opposition to the proposal. "As the first citizen of Mumbai, I have already written to the chief minister, opposing the proposal. But, if the CM does not agree, we will mobilise the public in a big way. In fact, my party, the Shiv Sena, wants the entire racecourse to be moved out of Mumbai. Our leader Uddhav Thackeray has already stated that it should be relocated to a place outside the city. Those who want to watch horse races can go there. We want a massive park to be developed on the 225 acres of land currently being occupied by the racecourse. The Shiv Sena is committed to this," Prabhu told dna on Sunday.
In fact, the heliport and racecourse issues are likely to escalate during the assembly elections scheduled for October.
Many in the Congress say that Chavan should not push for the heliport. "Already, our party is being perceived to be anti-people. If we back the heliport proposal, we will alienate the common man even more," a Congress legislator observed. The party had lost all six Lok Sabha seats in the city. Given this scenario, Chavan may find himself politically isolated on this issue.
Given the fact that the Shiv Sena has taken a decision to oppose the heliport, South Mumbai MP Arvind Sawant, who belongs to the Shiv Sena, can also be expected to go against the move. City BJP president Ashish Shelar was unavailable for comment. But, his party MP and all India secretary Kirit Somaiya made it clear that he was against the proposal.