[Reader-list] The political sociology of golf in South Asia (6) -- posting

Mario Rodrigues majorod22 at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 27 13:26:41 IST 2005

The Political Sociology of Golf in South Asia (6)

Last month, I had drawn attention to the excesses and
illegalities that had marked golf development in
South-East and East Asia, and also the struggles
against golf and lifestyle projects in these regions.
These have been mimicked almost in toto in India,
forcing golf-course opponents to often take the legal
route, sometimes successfully.

Now, for a just few examples nationwide:

* Last October, a two-judge bench of the Punjab and
Haryana High Court comprising Chief Justice B K Roy
and Justice Surya Kant acted in response to a PIL, and
ordered the demolition of the Forest Hill Golf and
Country Club at Karoran village off Chandigarh. They
directed the CBI to probe its construction and the
nexus between its promoters and top public servants,
because the project had come up in blatant violation
of the Forest Act and other land laws.

The club had shot into the news when 25 judges of the
high court went on a strike a few months earlier,
after Roy had pulled up two of them for accepting free
membership of the FHGCC. It further emerged that
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and other
ministers, top bureaucrats, police officials and other
individuals in positions of power and influence had
likewise accepted honorary membership of the 380-acre
club floated by NRI Colonel B S Sandhu, who ran an
immigration consultancy to Canada. In an ironic
development, Roy was subsequently transferred out of
the state.

* In January 2004, a division bench of the Supreme
Court stayed the further development of an 18-hole
golf course in the Goregaon West suburb of Mumbai,
when environmental activists alleged that hundreds of
acres of eco-sensitive mangrove protected by Coastal
Regulation Zone regulations had been destroyed for the

The stay was granted on a special leave petition filed
by the Bombay Environmental Action Group. The Rs 200
crore-plus project being developed by the Usha Madhu
Development Cooperative Housing Society would have
covered from 170-550 acres of land owned by the
Behramji Jejeebhoy group.

* Last July, the Bombay High Court stayed the
development of a 9-hole golf course plus seven-star
hotel, convention centre and service apartments on a
portion of the Royal Western India Turf
Club-administered 226-acre Mahalaxmi Race Course,
acting on a PIL filed by the Public Concern for
Governance Trust. 

The petitioners claimed that the project was a blatant
attempt to commercially exploit public land by the
RWITC and the developer, Pegasus Clubs and Resorts.
RWITC allegedly entered into a deal with Pegasus for a
minimum of 30 years, the PIL claimed, although its
lease on the land was valid only till 2013. It also
signed the deal with Pegasus without any consent from
the Bombay Municipal Corporation or the state
government from whom the land was leased – for racing
only. Pegasus had paid RWITC an advance of Rs 10 crore
and took all responsibility to secure all permissions
for the project.

* Sahara India Parivar’s plans to build a casino, golf
course and five-star hotels on four islands on the
Sunderbans, the world’s biggest mangrove swamp, has
drawn protests from opponents who claim it would
result in the “total destruction” of the pristine
delta system. Sahara has already acquired 2250
hectares of land for this purpose. UNESCO designated
the Sundarbans a World Heritage site in 1987. The
project has been opposed by many including
environmentalist Bittu Sahgal, editor of the green
magazine, Sanctuary, and writer Amitav Ghosh. 

Sahara India’s Amby Valley lifestyle project near
Lonavla, a hill station in Maharashtra, is another
controversial project which had to wade through legal
challenges, but has now forged ahead. A Professional
Golf Association of India-sanctioned tournament was
even staged on its golf course recently. 
Incidentally, Amby Valley were the title sponsors of
the just concluded PGAI Tour for 2004-05.

* Over 4,000 trees were allegedly cut down in the old
forest area to pave the way for Royal Springs Golf
Course in Srinagar, a project for which the then Jammu
& Kashmir Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, leader of
the National Conference (NC), drew a lot of flak in
the media. The course, designed by Robert Trent Jones
at a cost of Rs 25-32 crore, has been rated as the
best and the most beautiful in India, but has been
flayed as “nothing but a symbol of obscenely warped
priorities in public spending, and a monument to
” by critics. 

Ironically, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)
opposed the development when it was in the opposition
as a folly imposed on the state by the NC; but once in
power, the PDP Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed,
has become an enthusiastic promoter of golf to lure
tourists to the embattled state. 

* A couple of years ago, activists scuttled a move to
build golf courses in each drought-affected district
of Rajasthan as part of the ‘food-for-work’ programme
envisaged by the previous Congress regime. This
decision, taken by the then state government, to build
golf courses as part of drought relief works was
indeed strange – considering that golf courses
themselves consume a lot of water and Rajasthan is a
chronically drought-affected state. 

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