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Time for realty check
- Turf club cleft over property sale, fadeout fears for sport of racing

Bought in 1920 for Rs 11.75 lakh. Up for sale in 2007 for Rs 300 crore'

A crumbling façade, allegations of murky money deals, failure to get a proposed social club off the blocks, a string of resignations by stewards and, of course, the million-dollar debate — to sell or not to sell…

The 11, Russell Street premises of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC) — all of 222 cottahs (3.7 acres) — has suddenly come racing into realty reckoning in the time of big-ticket property deals in town.

The prime plot in downtown Calcutta, a listed heritage structure bought from JC Galstaun and “never meant for resale”, has caused a vertical split among members over whether to go for an outright sale and share the spoils, or develop it internally for adaptive reuse.

The club has 110 members, but hardly 35 are city-based and actively involved in the affairs. The average age of the total member strength is close to 75.

Matters came to a head when General (retd) Shankar Roychowdhury resigned from the post of RCTC’s senior stewardship, saying he was forced to quit “under pressure for an outright sale” of the property and share sale proceeds as dividend.

He was the fourth to jump off the wobbly saddle, after Deepak Khaitan, Sujit Bhattacharyya and J.N. Sapru. They were the prime movers for a 50,000-sq-ft city social club on campus, blocked by the pro-sale lobby. The ex-stewards had projected the social club as the lifeline to bail RCTC out of the financial mess.

“It’s a mouth-watering prospect for any real-estate developer,” says Abhijit Das, regional director of property consultants Trammell Crow Meghraj, which values the address at “nearly Rs 250 crore”.

If it does go up for grabs, the trade buzz is ITC, headquartered diagonally opposite the turf club, has already dangled a price carrot.

“The company has promised the chief minister a few more hospitality addresses and you could hardly ever find a better located property.. This could be the perfect place for a boutique hotel with a high-end heritage retail combo,” said a source.

But the finishing post is still some way off, with a great divide among members. “I’m not against the sale. What is of paramount importance is how the sale proceeds would be managed and administered, since money has always leaked out from the club. We are the custodians of public funds and there should be no question of any dividend,” stresses Sumant Dalmiya.

N.M. Ghose, ex-senior steward, is more strident: “I’m against the sale of the property. Let them develop a part of it, but it should not be allowed to be developed by a third party. The developing partner must join hands with a clear understanding that RCTC is the sole owner.”

While RCTC owes the state coffers around Rs 5 crore, it has recently closed a deal on a property on DL Khan Road for Rs 12.25 crore. This can be used to tide over the cash crunch and avert distress sale, argue some members.

They reason that a sale bid is not a way out of the debt situation and would do nothing to boost the sagging profile of the sport in the city. “The city social club would have yielded at least Rs 30 lakh every year, and helped retain the heritage campus. Besides, the proposal was ratified at an AGM and then re-ratified at an EGM,” an ex-steward points out.

An EGM scheduled for November 9, where vital money matters were to be discussed, has been postponed.

“The matter (of sale) will come up for discussion at the AGM later this month. We shall be in a position to clarify the situation then,” says steward Cyrus Madan.

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