Why cannot the Ooty racecourse be closed?

Ooty Race Course

When 500 Tasmac outlets could be closed in one stroke, why cannot the Ooty racecourse be closed?

The DMK abolished horse racing in 1976. Since then, racing has continued without a valid law or reason. Why continue a wrong thing with great hardship to the people of Ooty and the administration? DMK cannot object if the ruling party takes the decision.

My suggestion: Convert the east end as a new Vegetable Market by shifting the vegetable section from the Municipal market. Broaden the road connecting Etiennes Road and Commercial road with enough paid parking. Convert the west end as an extended main bus stand. Convert the middle portion as a park and sports complex with parking all-round.

Englishmen brought, among other sports, gymkhana, polo, cricket, boating, tennis, shooting and horse racing to the Nilgiris. The present race course was not fully operational till 1900. Before that there were smaller race courses at Wellington and Devala.

Ooty race course was always a multi-sports complex. In the earlier days the race course also housed the Archery, Badminton and Croquet (ABC) club, a prominent land mark which was pulled down without valid reason. Many national level tournaments have been conducted in the race course grounds.

I defended racing in 1976

Forty years ago the government of Tamil Nadu abolished horse racing in the state in March 1975. In 1976 a committee was set up to study the socio economic impact of horse racing in the state. The study was undertaken by the Institute of Techo-Economic Studies. I, as an Economist with the Institute, was the Principal Investigator of the study which was conducted on racing days in Chennai and Ooty.

According to study, the race going population formed only about 0.10% of the population of the state. Of these 83% were from the low and middle income brackets. The lower and middle income race goers were generally the losers. Punting involved loss in working or earning time, particularly in the case of wage-earners and professionals.

A ten year analysis of the balance-sheet of on course betting showed that the racing public was the biggest losers by about one third of their total contribution. Government in general was the largest gainers by about one fifth of the total funds by way of taxes. The next largest gainers were the horse owners who profited by about 6.6% of the total funds.

On balance, the study recommended the continuance of the horse racing with a caveat that betting could be expanded but gambling should be abolished. That is, the totalizer system could be expanded but the bookie system should be abolished as is the practice in all horse racing countries.

Now Racing is unviable and undefendable

Ooty races have become unviable and have long ceased to have any tourist attraction. The racing population has declined to a few addicts. Now, the government also appears to be a loser with the Madras Race Club owing to the Revenue department nearly Rs. 400 crores by way of lease rent arrears. The recent Asian Racing Conference held in Mumbai highlighted major concerns for the horse racing industry worldwide..

For the same reason, a similar demand is also being made to convert the 250 acre Mumbai race course into a public space.

Join me if you are convinced. I wish someone will translate this into Tamil.

Dharmalingam Venugopal

The Honorary Director of the Nilgiri Documentation Centre is Dharmalingam Venugopal, a native of Nilgiris, an Economist and an Environmental Activist and founder of Save Nilgiris Campaign and Managing Trustee of Nilgiris Documentation Centre.

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