THE PRESS CLUB THROUGH THE AGES
The Press Club, Mumbai was founded in 1968 in conjunction with the Bombay Union of Journalists (BUJ) as a professional and cultural platform for journalists working in the city. The Press Club’s original objectives included encouraging the highest standards of professional integrity and skill in the reporting of news; helping educate a new generation of journalists; and contributing to expanding the freedom and independence of the Fourth Estate
The idea of setting up a Press Club emerged in 1968. Journalists were the lowest-paid white-collar employees those days, and they had to fight every inch of the way to get their due. During the course of this struggle, they found that even in smaller cities such as Lucknow, Bhopal and Cochin, journalist unions had founded press clubs and had set up their own buildings. They decided that they should have one in Bombay too. A delegation of journos led by Madhu Shetye, K. P. Samak and K. D. Umrigar approached V. P. Naik, the then chief minister of Maharashtra. Chief Minister Naik was a forward-looking politician and he knew journalists from close quarters. He told the delegation that he had been impressed when he visited the Press Club of Delhi, and that he would help to secure a similar facility for journalists in Mumbai. S. K. Wankhede, the then finance minister of Maharashtra, was another politician who felt that city journalists ought to have a place they could call their own. He too offered a helping hand. Naik finally allotted a barrack-like structure opposite the Esplanade Courts and near the Victoria Terminus to the Press Club that used to be earlier occupied by MHADA engineers. It was given a lick of white paint and it had its own old world charm. With a façade of large glass windows, the Press Club came to be christened ‘The Glass House’. But with the perennial shortage of funds, the Glass House remained till the turn of the century a barrack with a partly enclosed lawn area at the back.
There were many journalists who contributed their mite in getting the Bombay Press Club started. Besides those mentioned earlier, there was A. P. Hudlikar, Hillary Lobo, V. T. Deshpande, K. S. Raman, Chandu Medhekar and V. Venkatesan. There were other organisations such as the Press Guild and the Mantralaya Correspondents Association who wanted the government to allot a premise for their use. However, the chief minister preferred to allot space for a non-sectional, non-denominational body of journalists, which would be used as a cultural center by members to mingle and relax.
In 1981, then chief minister A. R. Antulay reduced the Club’s rent to a token rupee and Sharad Pawar, who was chief minister in 1990, secured the allotment of land by sealing a lease deed with the Club for 30 years. Securing the lease for the land was a problem that became evident when the Club invited India's president, Zail Singh, to lay the foundation stone for its proposed building. At the last minute, the Maharashtra government informed the Press Club that that the Club could not hold the function for laying the foundation stone since it did not have any rights over the land, and held only nominal usage rights for the ‘Glass House’ structure allotted to the Club.
The matter was taken up with Sharad Pawar who readily agreed to allot leasehold rights for the land. Securing the land where the Club and the conference hall stands today was a hard task and the founder members of the Press Club worked tirelessly to make it possible.
Further problems were in store. When the Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh moved out of its makeshift office (the present Conference Hall), instead of handing it over to the Press Club as was agreed, the then state minister for culture, Pramod Navalkar, passed orders handing over the old Mhada barrack to the Maharashtra Sahitya Sanskriti Mandal. Founder member Madhu Shetye and others made strong representations, with supporting documentary evidence, and after a 6-month battle convinced the chief minister Manohar Joshi to hand over the barrack to the Press Club. This later became the Conference Hall.