WITH the Maharashtra government approving a new lease policy for clubs and gymkhanas operating on government-owned lands, rents paid by these elite clubs and gymkhanas will rise sharply. The Cricket Club of India (CCI), for example, paying less than Rs 1 per square metre as ground rent for its facility in Churchgate, will now pay 243 times that sum.
There are a total of 18 such clubs and gymkhanas on prime land owned by the government in the commercial capital. Several of these were established in the pre-Independence era and their ground rents haven’t undergone a revision in the last at least 33 years. On the other hand, the membership fees in some such posh clubs located in South Mumbai, which are often considered as bastions of the elite, range from Rs 1-3 lakh annually to Rs 15 lakh upwards for lifetime memberships.
On May 10 this year, The Indian Express had first reported about the government’s plans to revise the lease rents. The state’s previous attempt to hike the ground rents of these facilities in 2003 had been stayed by the Bombay High Court following objections raised by the managements of some of these clubs and gymkhanas. While the court’s stay was lifted in 2008 itself, the government has revised the policy only now, after the state’s law department opined that there was no legal hurdle in revising ground rents by drafting a brand new policy, said a senior official.
As reported earlier, the government has also incorporated a contentious condition making it mandatory for all such clubs and gymkhanas to reserve 5 per cent service memberships for senior civil servants (Class A employees) serving with the Union and the state governments. While the CCI and the Bombay Gymkhana had been offering such temporary memberships to serving bureaucrats, this has now been made a rule. The Maharashtra cabinet, which approved the new policy Tuesday, has ruled that such service memberships would remain valid till the civil servant is serving in the district where the facility is located.
Incidentally, the state’s revenue department too had initially proposed honorary memberships for the chief minister, sitting ministers, the Legislative Assembly speaker and the Legislative Council chairman in the CCI and the Bombay Gymkhana, besides a mandatory 2 per cent membership quota for all sitting legislators. However, these proposals were dropped after the state’s finance department objected to them saying these could invite adverse comments from the public.
“In the past such policy decisions have been commented upon adversely in the media,” senior officials in the department had contended. But the government opted to retain the service membership quota for civil servants, contending that “several gymkhanas had offered such memberships in the past as well”.
A senior government source argued, “These are government-owned land. Clubs have built recreational facilities on these and have enrolled members. The government is within its right to ask those running such facilities to admit some members whom it would want enrolled for enjoying the facilities.” It was clarified that no concessional fee was being sought for their enrollment. The district collector will now be an ex officio member of such facilities.
Besides the CCI and the Bombay Gymkhana, other facilities to be impacted by the government’s measure include the PG Hindu Gymkhana, Parsi Gymkhana, Islam Gymkhana, Wodehouse Gymkhana Club, Princess Victoria Mary Gymkhana, Catholic Gymkhana, Grand Medical College Gymkhana, Police Gymkhana, the Western India Football Association (Cooperage grounds), Breach Candy Club (all South Mumbai), and the Golf Club, Chembur Gymkhana, Khar Gymkhana, the Arts club, and the Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana (all Mumbai suburbs).
With the exception of CCI, the lease period of nine out of the ten gymkhanas has lapsed, whereas a lease deed for the allotment to the Police Gymkhana is yet to be executed, according to sources.
Depending on the plot’s size, the new policy has divided these facilities into three categories. Those spread over 20,000 square metre or more have been clubbed in the ‘A’ category, those between 10,000-20,000 sq m in the ‘B’ category, and smaller plots in the ‘C’ category.
The new formula proposed for the new ground rent is that ‘A’ class facilities will pay an annual rent of 1 per cent of the value arrived at by computing 10 per cent of the prevalent Ready Reckoner rates for their plots. The ‘B’ and ‘C’ class facilities will pay 0.5 per cent and 0.25 per cent of the same value. The cabinet Tuesday also decided that the lease rents would rise by 4 per cent annually from now onwards. The new ground rents will be applied with effect from January 1, 2017, said officials.
The government Tuesday retained the condition of permitting such facilities to rent out the plot for non-sporting activities for 45 days annually but hiked the charges payable to the state for these purposes. Such charges will also go up by 10 per cent every three years. Acting on complaints that the grounds were being let out for private functions of its members only, the new policy draft prohibits offline booking. “Bookings would have to be done online and will be open to all,” said a source. The new draft also prohibits the managements from monopolising catering and event contracts at such facilities.
While open space enthusiasts have been demanding that a portion be mandatorily left open for the public, no such condition has been imposed.