The Bombay High Court has restrained the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC) from hearing a matter pertaining to the lease renewal of the 220-acre Mahalaxmi Racecourse in central Mumbai, noting it was "prima facie unable to see" how the commission could have taken suo motu (on its own) cognizance of such an issue.

A division bench of Justices GS Patel and Neela Gokhale passed the order on March 8 on a petition filed by the Principal Secretary of the Maharashtra government's Urban Development Department (UDD) against the order passed by the commission on February 17.

The MSHRC in an order had imposed a cost of Rs 10,000 each on the state's Chief Secretary, the BMC commissioner, the Principal Secretary, UDD and others for their failure to submit facts about the renewal of the lease of the Mahalaxmi Racecourse.

The high court stayed any further enquiry or hearing of proceedings in the matter before the commission, pending the final disposal of the state government's petition.

"We are prima facie unable to see how such an action is maintainable before the State Human Rights Commission or how it could have been initiated suo motu. We, therefore, grant interim relief," the court said.

AI Patel, Additional GP, with AGP Hemant Haryan appeared for the Petitioner-State.

The commission had initiated proceedings on the issue of non-renewal of the lease of the Mumbai Racecourse land.

The racecourse was given to the Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) in May 1994 on a lease which expired in May 2013 but it was never renewed.

In December 2022, the commission imposed a cost of Rs 10,000 each on all the respondents for seeking adjournment which was paid.

When a similar order was passed on February 17, 2023, the state government moved the high court.

The government claimed it was "entirely unclear" how a contractual matter between the government or the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) and the RWITC could lie within the jurisdictional remit of the MSHRC.

The HC posted the matter for further hearing on March 15.

The state government is the owner of the racecourse land, and on its behalf, the BMC collects rent and takes decisions on lease renewal. The BMC cannot collect rent from the RWITC before deciding on lease renewal.

The commission, while taking cognizance of newspaper reports on the same, had noted that the laxity of government officials allowed the racecourse management to use the 220-acre land for free since 2013.

Cause Title- The Principal Secretary Urban Development Department v. Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission

Click here to read/download Order

With PTI Inputs