At a time when the entire country and the parliament are discussing land acquisition, Jai Kisan Andolan would wish to draw everyone’s attention to the case of Delhi Race Club. Situated at the heart of Lutyen’s Delhi, across the road from the residence-cum-office of the Prime Minister of India, the race course is a symbol of all that is wrong with the current practice of land acquisition: forcible dispossession of farmers, unfair compensation, unfulfilled promises, unsettling of families and communities, brazen use of “public purpose” for private gains, collusion of public authorities with private entities, refusal to correct historical wrongs. Therefore Jai Kisan Andolan has decided to take this up as a symbol of our nation-wide movement against the current Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2015.
Here are the relevant facts about the Race Course:
- This land was acquired in 1912 by the colonial government. This fell under village Malcha; a total of 1792 acres of land from this village was acquired along with large tracts of land from other villages. The Gazette Notification issued by the then Punjab government declared that the land was required for “a public purpose, namely for the new capital of India at Delhi”. (Annexure A). The farmers were offered a pittance as compensation: they demanded Rs. 1600 to Rs 2,400 per acre; the government decided to give then between Rs. 15 to 35 per acre. Reportedly, the Award also promised that unutilized land would be returned to the farmers. Historical records suggest that the farmers rejected this offer, that they were forcibly evicted without any resettlement and that most of the farmers never received even this token compensation fixed by the government. The farmers were left to fend for themselves and many of them went and settled in Sonepat district of Haryana at a place that is now called Malcha Patti village.
- After acquisition, this piece of land was not used for any governmental building or facility. Nor was it returned to the farmers. It was leased to a private entity, the Delhi Gymkhana Race Club. (This was against the spirit of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, which did not provide for acquisition of land for private entities). This lease was transferred to Delhi Race Club in 1940, which turned into an incorporated Public Limited Company in 1941, now incorporated under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956. (Annexure B) Thus a land acquired for public purpose was diverted for private profiteering. This continued even after independence.
- Contrary to common impression, the Delhi Race Club is not a voluntary association engaged in promotion of sports. It is a company that makes profit by promoting betting. Besides holding its own races every Tuesday, the Club also hosts betting for other Race Courses. (for example of 26 July 2015, see Annexure C). As per its Annual Balance sheets, the Delhi Race Club made a profit of Rs. 2.31 crores in the financial year ending 31 March, 2013 (Annexure D). It is alleged that the Club makes more profit than is reflected in its books. It follows strange practices like charging Rs. 4,000 as daily “Mobile Phone Permission” (as against an Entry Fee of Rs. 60 without the phone!). This dubious charge was the single largest source of income for the Club in 2012-13. Though it claims to have future plans to “improve racing as a sport and not just a betting product”, its recent Annual Reports do not reflect any significant activity for promotion of horse-racing as sports. In fact, it hints at the possibility of leasing out a part of its estate for “commercial purpose”. It is safe to conclude then that this is a gambling facility being run on public property.
- What is really shocking is that the Club has been allowed to carry on its operations although its lease expired in 1998 and has not been renewed since. The Land and Development Office (L&DO) of the Ministry of Urban Development promptly served an eviction notice to the Club on 25 October 1999 but after that the public authorities have been strangely lax. The Club initially got an injunction against eviction from the High Court of Delhi. The Club claims that the final order of the High Court of Delhi dated 9 July 2012 “directed that the matter be considered afresh” (strangely, a copy of this order is not available on the website of the High Court or on other reputable data banks). The Club claims that the “L&DO department has agreed to renew and regularise the lease of Delhi Race Club on payment of dues of the department”. (Annexure E) The Club is seeking extension of its lease up to 2050. This sequence of event shows that even after the lease expired and the government could take the land back, it chose not to do so. This hints at deeper collusion of public authority with private interests.It should be noted that the Club has government nominees on its Managing Committee, including the Deputy Commissioner of New Delhi and the Commissioner Excise, Entertainment and Luxury Tax (Oddly, the Club has a running legal battle with this very department) The photographs of VIPs that participate in the events held here in the Annual Reports of the Club indicate that the Club enjoys political patronage. (Annexure F)
It is clear that the Race Course symbolizes much of what is wrong with the practice of land acquisition. Use of acquired land for gambling for private profit is a travesty of “public purpose”. That it should happen right opposite the office-cum-residence of the Prime Minister of the country is nothing short of a public scandal. That the Club should continue its operations after the expiry of its lease suggests collusion with the government.
Delhi Race Club is not an exception. Experience of the operation of Land Acquisition Act has shown that there is widespread misuse of land acquired under “public purpose” for private benefits. Jai Kisan Andolan proposes to bring out further details in the public domain of the misuse of land acquisition. For us the Race Course is a symbol, a powerful symbol, of the perils of land acquisition, especially of extending land acquisition for private entities as proposed by Land Acquisition (amendment) Bill.
Therefore, Jai Kisan Andolan has decided to serve a Public Notice to the Prime Minister calling upon him to immediately
- Evict Delhi Race Club from this land so as to end this shocking misuse of public property for private profiteering;
- Use this land for a truly public and noble purpose of creating a National Memorial for Farmers so as to commemorate those farmers who sacrificed their lives in our Freedom Struggle beginning with 1857, those farmers who lost their lives and livelihood in forcible acquisition in independent India; and those farmers who were forced to commit suicide due to discrimination against and neglect of agriculture by the successive governments;
- Use the remaining part of this land for promotion and propagation of sustainable agriculture by way of a “kisan-haat” where farmers can directly sell safe and healthy organic food; and
- Rename the “Race Course” Metro Station as “Malcha” Metro Station to commemorate the village and the villagers who underwent untold sacrifices in the making of Luyten’s Delhi.
This piece of land which today is a symbol of expropriation of the farmers for the indulgence of our colonial masters and their Indian successors should become a national symbol of acknowledgement of historic wrongs and a beacon for the future of Indian farmers.
On behalf of the farmers and citizens of India, the Jai Kisan Andolan has served a notice to the Prime Minister. We expect the government to respond within two weeks, by the evening of 9th August (International Day for the Indigenous People and the day of the great August Kranti), failing which we would be constrained to find other peaceful and democratic ways to achieve the demands stated above.
Jai Kisan Andolan is a movement launched by Swaraj Abhiyan. It seeks to mobilise farmers and non-farmer citizens of India to demand, among other things, withdrawal of Land Acquisition (amendment) Bill. It has reached thousands of villages and has collected Kalash containing earth from the field in that village. The Andolan is supported by more than 40 farmers organisations across the country. Its Jai Kisan March begins on 1st of August from village Thikriwal in Barnala (Punjab) and concludes with a rally at Jantar Mantar on 10th of August.
By Rakesh Manchanda
Images were supplied by the author.