SURENDER REDDY – "AN ADMINISTRATOR PAR EXCELLENCE"
Mr R Surender Reddy, Chairman HRC
One of the most respected personalities, not only among the racing fraternity, but universally as well, is Mr R Surender Reddy, the longest serving Chairman of the Hyderabad Race Club. No other Chairman of any Turf Club in the world has remained at the helm for 30 years! Under the able leadership of this unassuming gentleman, the HRC has developed leaps n bounds and stands shoulder to shoulder with the top most Clubs in India. Mr Surender Reddy, a seasoned politician, has also served as Member of Parliament. He has not only served the HRC devotedly, but has also represented India at international forums. The man, who has enjoyed the overwhelming support and unanimous mandate of his colleagues over three decades, goes down memory lane as he shares his thoughts on the welfare of the sport of Kings with our correspondent Madhukar Bhagawan.
Indiarace: Sir, you have the distinction of being the longest serving chairman for any race club in India, how do you look at this enviable record?
R.Surender Reddy: I am thankful to my members, who have been kind enough to elect me over all these years. In the past 30 years that I have been a chairman, these elected members have chosen me unanimously. That goes a long way where administration is concerned, because one must have the confidence of the committee as well as the members. Their faith in me is what has driven me to deliver and steer the Club’s progress. It speaks volumes about the unity and harmony among the committee members, without their support it would not have been possible.
IR: You’ve been the chairman for around 30 years now, heading this institution, the Hyderabad Race Club year after year. How do you view the changes through the decades?
RSR: Obviously, there has been lot of improvement, lot of transformation. In the year 1976 when we were just a club, we aspired to become a Turf Authority. The members and stewards approached me to take over as Chairman, which I agreed, as I shared the same view. I had to use my good offices with politicians and lobby with Government authorities. I requested the then Chief Minister to call upon his counterparts so that they would recommend their respective race clubs to support us to become a Turf Authority. Our Chief Minister was kind enough to oblige and ultimately we became a Turf Authority in 1976. After that I resigned because I had my political commitments as well, being a member of the Parliament. Nevertheless, it was satisfying to deliver on what we had embarked upon, this initial goal was achieved.
IR: Tell us about your initial years after you returned as Chairman of the HRC.
RSR: When I took over as Chairman again, in 1983, the turnover of the Club was around 18 crores, despite which the Club’s balance sheet was showing losses of about 8 to 9 lakhs. We had a debt of about 24 lakhs. All that changed over the years. Today, our turnover is around 700 crores, our flocks are very good, they are best in the country. We have enough funds reserved to take up new projects. Every year, we are spending, on an average, a minimum of Rs 2 crores, sometimes it goes up to 5 crores in a year, on improving infrastructure like race tracks, modernizing stables, constructing new stables etc. Recently we have invested in new machines to computerize betting terminals to the tune of about 9 crores and we are in the process of doing lot of other developments. We have recently opened a fully air conditioned lounge of about 8000 to 9000 sq ft, spreading over three floors, which will be exclusively for members. These are some of the developments which we have taken up.
Fortunately for us the racecourse land of 130 acres belongs to us. This was purchased from the Nizams. We have built a massive Grand stand that can accommodate twenty thousand people. There are ten thousand chairs and it can also accommodate another 10,000 who can stand. In spite of that we took a decision that to approach the government if we can exchange this land to a better location as the approach to the race course in its current location is congested. The present Chief Minister was very kind and he put it through in the cabinet meeting some time back. The cabinet had unanimously approved our request to exchange about 175 acres of land against the existing one in the city. Unfortunately when we went to survey, there was land, but there was not ‘one-piece’ of land of 175 acres. As a result, we had to give up that idea. Now we have approached the government to give us about 10 acres where we can set up an exclusive club house for the members and that’s in the process. In the near future we will be able to know the result of our application.
IR: Will the Club House be situated anywhere close to the existing racecourse?
RSR: No, it will be in the new area where most of the IT industries are present and where new layouts are coming up. I can say it’s the happening area of the city.
IR: The approach to the race course at Malakpet is congested. Is anything being done in this regard?
RSR: We had approached the Municipal Corporation. We even offered to bear the expenses to build a bridge across the Moosi River. Unfortunately before they could take it up, residences sprung up on either side of the river. There have been encroachments and people have built houses, now it is most unlikely. I don’t think there is any way out, even if the government is willing, it is not practically possible to do anything to improve the approach to the race course.
IR: Hyderabad Race Course was the first to computerize tote operations, how did that come about?
RSR: Although it was during my tenure, I would give the credit to Mr NN Reddy. It was the brain child of Mr. NN Reddy who was the secretary at that time. We used to go around to international racing conferences to several countries. What we saw there, especially in Australia impressed us. Mr. N. N. Reddy developed a very close rapport with the Australians and he was very popular with them.
In any racing conferences, that group (Australian) used to be very vocal, be it in the meetings or at different occasions and at social gatherings. They were keen that Hyderabad must have computerized betting system in place. On our return, after one such meeting, Nari (NN Reddy) convinced the entire committee on computerization of the totes. We didn’t have the funds then. However, Nari was determined and the committee too was keen and excited about the idea. With a strong will to go ahead, it was not too difficult to arrange the finances. We successfully computerized the totes and that was a path-breaking achievement. Today 90 percent of our income is from these computerized betting systems. That’s the very reason why we have recently invested 9 crores for newer and advanced machines.
IR: Modernization of your existing tote operations is underway now, but how do you think this is going to help?
RSR: As you know, Andhra Pradesh is being to be divided into two States, Telangana and Andhra. The Malakpet Race Course is in Telangana and we have about 10 betting centers in Hyderabad city. We have about 7 betting centers in different cities which would fall under Andhra and in our total profits nearly 68 percent comes from inter-venue (Off-Course) betting. So, one can see that inter-venue betting centers are the future for any race course. I think other race courses will also have to convince their governments to open inter-venue betting centers in different districts. We had plans to open betting centers in all the 22 districts of Andhra Pradesh, but now that the state is being divided we will have some thinking to do with our centers in Andhra. I am sure whichever government comes in Andhra they will not ask us to shut operations. I have very cordial relationship with the Government authorities; I am confident that they too would see reason and grant us special permission to continue operations at these off course betting centers. The revenue from these betting centers will also go to that state. I feel the future of racing in India is in inter-venue/off course betting centers, with presence not only in every district but also in every big town in that State. If we are able to do it, it will be good for promoting racing.
IR: Will that state benefit by permitting the betting centers?
RSR: Definitely! 100 percent it will. Whatever tax they levy will be additional revenue for the state. Let me give you an example. I represent India in the Asian Racing Executive Council. We have regular meetings, in Hong Kong, Dubai and Paris. I have been attending these conferences regularly and there are several innovations cropping up. Over the last two years, Hong Kong was able to convince Mainland China and they have opened up 1100 betting centers. I was just going through their Balance Sheet that is something that other governments and our State governments must see and look at the benefit they can reap. Betting is one thing that no government can stop no matter how strict they are. Even during Stalin’s era in Russia or Mau’s era in China betting was rampant.
Now Russia has big plans to resume horseracing. I have at Paris some months ago where I met the Russian delegation. They said they have plans for opening about six race courses. Fortunately for them, the old race course land, which was under the old regime, is still available at 3 or 4 places and I am told that the present government has given them the approval to start again. Polland and Czechoslovakia have done it. They were all under the communist regimes. Qatar will soon be building a beautiful race course. Meydan in Dubai is one race course worth seeing, but unfortunately there is no betting there.
The money has to come from the rulers. When people are not involved and there are only individuals involved in racing, I don’t think that’s a right attitude for racing. People should be involved. Now all over world people are involved. Take Japan for example which has the highest turnover in the world. The agriculture ministry of the government runs it. Turkey which is an Islamic country is the only exception as far as Islamic countries are concerned. The government of Turkey, the agricultural department runs it. So these are some of the things that our governments, our politicians should take note of. The Bangalore Turf Club gives about 50 crores each year to the government of Karnataka and that is a lot of money. If only they could spend that money on the sports budget, it would be wonderful, but unfortunately I don’t know why the government has not encouraged this wonderful sport. They have a wrong notion that this is purely gambling. I think we as racing administrators must try to impress on them that horse racing is not gambling alone but an entertaining sport as well.
IR: You have been representing India in the International Racing arena and visiting lot of race courses across the world. How is Indian racing perceived overseas?
RSR: There was a time, in the 50s, when Indian racing was very good. Foreign horses used to run here. When I say foreign horses, I mean the horses which you could import. But then, the Government of India brought lot of restrictions. Indian racing was very good when compared to Singapore and other countries then. Today, honestly, we have lost ground. Singapore has gone ahead, Malaysia is moving forward. Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are all doing extremely well.
Some years back, the Turf Authority formed a committee to standardize common rules of racing for all the turf authorities and I was made the chairman of that committee. It took me two years and countless sittings to convince some of the turf authorities to function in a collective manner. In our country unfortunately, we are driven by ego. I am sorry I am saying this, with no offence meant to any stewards, turf members or chairmen of turf clubs, we do have a lot of ego. We put ourselves before racing. It’s high time that we all got together and put the sport before self.
We should be in sync with advancements taking place in the Asia Racing circuit. The new technologies, new drug related rules, Pattern committees, trading of horses are all important factors where we lag behind. For instance, some races are being declared null and void following crowd unrest or riots. These are some areas where we have to give some serious thought. There are bound to be riots in India, but we cannot void the races because of that. These are some of the problems that unfortunately we are not willing to sit and discuss.
Take for example the taxation which is different in each state. The TDS and service tax issue is really hitting us hard. We should appoint a committee to study and push for uniformity in all the states where we have racing. The present system is not doing racing any good.
IR: Is the latest whip by the Government with regard to TDS and other Income Tax issues going to be harsh on horse owners, especially the ones owning lesser horses?
RSR: See, one thing the owners should realise is that you cannot go against the government. Filing of tax returns is mandatory and every individual is obligated to it. One cannot differentiate an owner as big or small as far as filing of Income Tax is concerned. I have personally spoken to the commission on this and they have told me clearly that one has to file his/her income tax returns and they would accept even if losses are declared with substantiation. Now take the case of R.W.I.T.C. where almost 90 percent have filed the Income Tax and the Commissioner has accepted it. Same is the case with Kolkata and Chennai where nearly 98 percent of the owners have filed their returns.
The reason why Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mysore and Delhi got into this mess is because owners have not filed their Income Tax and we as racing administrators of the clubs have no business to allow them to race. I am very strong on this. We have no business to encourage people who do not file their Income Tax. Such owners should not be allowed to run their horses as they are breaking the fundamental law of the land.
IR: Going one step forward, we have been hearing a lot about match fixing in other sports. Do you think such things go on in horse racing?
RSR: Unfortunately, I cannot say it does not happen. We hear a lot about it regularly. I will not comment on other race clubs, because I don’t know what is happening there, but there is a lot of ‘benami’ ownership which is affecting racing in a big way. Such benami ownerships is affecting racing in a big way. We in Hyderabad have taken precautions in bringing in rules and regulations to stop benami ownership. Now you will ask me, “Have you been able to stop benami ownership?” No, I don’t think so; we have not been fully successful. We still have benami ownership existing and this is not good for racing. All of us will have to sit down to address this issue and let go the ‘Chalta Hai’ attitude.
IR: Why has the Racing Academy that was being run by the Hyderabad Race Club shut operations?
RSR: The Racing Academy was not run by the Hyderabad Race Club. It was run by the Turf Authority and they thought there were enough officials and that they could train their own officials. It was therefore decided in the Chairmen’s meeting to close down the academy at Hyderabad.
IR: Do you feel that there enough racing officials? Is there any chance of reviving the academy?
RSR: There is no doubt that there is a dearth of handicappers, stipendiary stewards, track maintenance officials etc. These are all specialized jobs and I am not sure that we are really addressing this issue as we should. I hold myself guilty too, in this regard. We ought to discuss these issues because most of these officials at the end of their tenure are being reappointed. Are we training youngsters? If you ask me, no we are not. This issue is a very serious one, I think this should be addressed by the Turf Authorities. Whenever we have raised them in the past, we only discuss, but we all go home without taking a decision..
IR: Is there a possibility of hosting the Asian Racing Conference in India?
RSR: We had bid to host the 2016 edition of the Asian Racing Conference and I take pride in announcing that India has been allotted that privilege. We have invited all the Executive Council members of the Asian Racing Federation to Hyderabad during this Invitation weekend. New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Singapore, India, Dubai and South Africa are members of the Asian Racing Federation. They will be visiting other racing centers as well to choose the right place to hold the event. Earlier the host country would decide on the city where the conference would be held but now the norms have changed. A committee appointed by the Executive Council will look into the facilities available at each city and Race Clubs to hold such a mammoth event. There will be over 800 visiting delegates which the host Club should be able to accommodate. Hotel accommodation for the delegates should be available close to the race course. Most of them will be requiring translators. Therefore the city that can fulfil these requirements most adequately will be selected by the committee to hold the event.
IR: In your long career as Chairman of the Hyderabad Race Club, there were many firsts like, computerization of totes, Giant LED display screen, two tier stabling for horses and the likes. What has been most satisfying to you as a Chairman?
RSR: Let me point out to you that the foundation for all this was laid by Mr. N. N. Reddy, a very dynamic person. Even today, in my opinion, he is one of the finest and the most knowledgeable stipendiary steward living, after S.R.Captain. Currently his health is not supporting him, but he still comes to the races often and advises us on several issues. We have retained him as an adviser to the club. All the innovations were the brain child of ‘Nari’ and I must also mention that our club members have also supported us wholeheartedly in all our endeavours.
Here, I would like to add that there is a lot of difference between a social club and a race club. In a social club the money in the club belongs to the members, but in a race club the money belongs to the public. We as racing administrators are only custodians of the punters’ money. We have to be very careful on using the punters’ money and are we doing it is the question I would like to put to all the race clubs. Section 25 of the Companies Act prohibits the use of such money for personal use and I keep emphasizing this to my members regularly. There are many demands from members for freebies and that’s when I remind them the difference between a social club and a race club. Now with the R.T.I. Act coming into force we have to be more correct in dealing with the ‘public’ money. This is one area where my members have supported me in running the club and not put me in an embarrassing position. Still we do things which, I am not saying we are breaking the law, but some of the things we do is not right, I would put it that way.
IR: Has being a politician helped you in running this organisation?
RSR: Certainly! I am not taking the credit but 30 years is a long time and for nearly half the time I was in the opposition being a congressman. Politically, the Chief Ministers then were bent upon defeating me as I was considered to be very powerful in my district, but when it came to issues relating to the race club, all of them have gone out of their way in helping me. For instance Mr.N.T.Rama Rao was instrumental in bringing down the taxes. I must say ‘hats off’ to him. I went to him one day and said, “Sir, you must bring down the taxes”. It was 15% at that time and he was apprehensive that the revenue to the government would fall with the reduction in taxes. I was successful in explaining to him that it would be the other way round and he readily placed the matter before the cabinet. The taxes were brought down to 5 and 10%. The next year we gave enhanced revenue to the government and Mr. Rao was graceful to acknowledge.
When Mr. Chandrababu Naidu was the Chief Minister, I was able to get whatever I wanted done. For instance we did not have a golf course in Hyderabad and I approached him with a request for land. Initially he was hesitant, but he later asked me to meet him after I wrote a long letter to him. Within a month I was able to get 230 acres of prime land in the midst of Hyderabad City for a golf course. I have had the privilege to serve as the President of the club for 17 years. I gave up the post just a year ago due to time constraint. All this I was able to do sitting in the opposition.
IR: Having now retired from politics, how do you feel, are you able to maintain the same clout?
RSR: No, it’s very difficult. One cannot get the same political mileage when you are not in active politics but I still manage to push my way through with my old connections.
IR: One last question Sir. What is your vision for Indian racing?
RSR: That’s a question all the administrators should answer together. I told you earlier also, when we are elected as stewards we should first and foremost see how to improve racing, how to get the bad elements out of racing and unless and until we do this we will not be able to improve the standard of racing. One more important thing is that whatever decisions we take or rules we frame for the betterment of racing, we should not try to break them. The most important portfolio in racing is Stiping. Our Stipes have never met on a common platform. They have to be brought together to prepare a uniform policy for punishment. We should have a uniform pattern of stiping and this can be achieved only if all the stipes get-together, have a seminar and try to evolve common norms and present them to the Turf Authority for implementation. If we are able to do this then horse racing in this country will improve.