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Mumbai’s elite clubs and gymkhanas may soon have to pay higher ground rents, besides letting in more serving bureaucrats as members. The state revenue department has formulated a new lease policy for clubs and gymkhanas existing on government land. Sources said the policy would soon be tabled before the state cabinet for approval.
The ground rents for these facilities, many of which came up in the pre-Independence era, have not been revised since allotment. Their rents are as low as Rs 2.5 per square foot annually. On the other hand, membership fees in some South Mumbai posh clubs, which are now regarded as bastions of the elite, range from Rs 1-3 lakh annually to over Rs 15 lakh for a lifetime membership.
An earlier attempt by the state government to increase lease rents for these facilities in 2003 was stayed by the Bombay High Court, following objections raised by the managements of these clubs and gymkhanas. However, government sources said, the court stay was subsequently lifted in 2008.
The law department had opined there was no legal impediment to revise the lease rents by drafting a new lease policy, said a senior official.
While a few clubs such as the Cricket Club of India and the Bombay Gymkhana have offered temporary or service memberships to serving bureaucrats, the draft policy document has now proposed to make this a rule. The department has proposed a five per cent quota in service membership for civil servants serving with the Centre or the state government. While officials argued it was just a proposal at this stage and the final decision in this regard would rest with the cabinet, some conceded the contentious clause could become a point of debate and criticism.
Sources said the initial draft had also recommended a membership quota for ministers and legislators, but after apprehensions were raised by the finance department, the idea was later dropped. In justification of the retained membership quota proposed for civil servants, a source said, “The government owns the land. Clubs have built recreational facilities on it and have enrolled members. The government is well within its right to ask those running such facilities to admit some of the members whom it would want to be enrolled for enjoying the facilities.” It was clarified that no concessional fee had been sought for enrolling them.
There are 18 such facilities in Mumbai — Cricket Club of India, Bombay Gymkhana, PG Hindu Gymkhana, Parsi Gymkhana, Islam Gymkhana, Wodehouse Gymkhana Club, Princess Victoria Mary Gymkhana, Catholic Gymkhana, Grand Medical College Gymkhana, Police Gymkhana, Western India Football Association (Cooperage grounds), Breach Candy Club (all South Mumbai); Golf Club, Chembur Gymkhana, Khar Gymkhana, Arts Club, and Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana (all Mumbai suburbs).
The lease of nine gymkhanas had lapsed a decade ago, said sources. Some have secured lease renewal for 15 years in the absence of a policy.
Depending on the plot’s size, the new policy has proposed three categories of clubs and gymkhanas. Facilities spread over 20,000 square metres have been clubbed in the ‘A’ category, those in the 10,000-20,000 square metres in the ‘B’ category, and smaller plots in the ‘C’ category.
The formula that has been proposed for the new ground rent is that all those facilities found in the ‘A’ class category would have to pay an annual lease rent equal to 1 per cent of the value arrived at by computing 10 per cent of the prevalent ready reckoner rates. The ‘B’ class facilities would have to pay 0.5 per cent of the same value while those in the ‘C’ class category would be charged 0.25 per cent. The department has also proposed a revision in rents every five years.
While retaining the condition that such facilities would be permitted to rent out the plot for non-sporting activity for 45 days in a year, the government has also increased the rents payable to the government for such purposes. The managements would have to inform the Collector’s office in advance about such functions. A 10 per cent increase every three years in such government rentals has also been proposed.
Taking cognisance of the complaints that the grounds were being let out for private functions of its members only, the new policy draft prohibits offline booking. “Bookings will 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 activists have been demanding that a portion of all such facilities be mandatorily kept open for the general public, it is still unclear if the government would press for the condition.