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Pay or no play: mayor makes a point
- Civic body double-faults South Club over lease term, rent arrears

Cricket, the races, and now tennis. After refusing to play ball at Eden Gardens and then cracking the horsewhip at the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, it’s time for mayor Subrata Mukherjee to raise quite a ‘racquet’ at South Club.

With the India-New Zealand Davis Cup Asia Oceania Group I second round match slated to start from Friday, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), at the behest of the mayor, has pulled up the city’s tennis landmark for a double-fault.

“The lease of the club expired two years ago and there is also a large outstanding amount,” Mukherjee said on Tuesday. “The matter must be sorted out before the match between India and New Zealand can be staged,” he warned.

The mayor had earlier threatened to play spoilsport at Eden Gardens, before the last India-England One-Day International, hauling up the Cricket Association of Bengal over non-payment of amusement tax and the quality of drinking water. The matter was resolved at the last minute, and the off-field civic showdown did not impede on-pitch action.

Mukherjee also caused a stir by slapping amusement tax on entry tickets at the races, prompting the club authorities to challenge the decision in court.

This time, the mayor has targeted South Club, with less than 72 hours to go for the Davis Cup tie. He has directed municipal commissioner Debasis Som to “take action against the club” unless it coughs up the dues.

“I have taken up the matter with the municipal commissioner and hope that everything will be sorted out soon,” said club president Rajat Majumdar. A club official denied that the lease term had expired on December 31, 2000. “It is not correct,” he said. Civic records revealed that the CMC had leased out a 10-bigha plot at 2/1, Bibhabati Bose Sarani (formerly Woodburn Park) to South Club for 25 years in 1950, against payment of an annual rent of Rs 1,000. In 1975, the lease term was renewed for a period of another 25 years, ending on December 31, 2000, with an enhancement of annual rent by 10 per cent.

In the intervening period, the club submitted a document contending that the earlier Left Front municipal board had passed a resolution renewing the lease term for another 25 years. But the Trinamul Congress board took over before the fresh rent agreement was signed. Subsequently, the new civic board imposed a number of conditions, including a hefty rent hike with retrospective effect, said deputy chief law officer Shaktibrata Ghosh. He said several rounds of discussions were held with the club officials, “but they did not follow it up”. Recently, the CMC has served the club a notice.

Civic estate department records show the club having paid its dues till January 1, 2000. Municipal secretary Sajal Bhowmik said: “As the club has agreed to clear its dues, the calculation of arrears is now on and the file will be sent to the municipal commissioner for his final order on Wednesday.”

But on Friday, the spotlight at South Club should be back on Leander Paes.

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