Bangalore, October 15: For Riju George, now in his late 30s, the best part of growing up in Thippasandra was that the area was surrounded by some of the best sporting facilities the city had to offer.
In the late 1990s Riju was something of a local hero. Every cricket, football, tennis, badminton, table tennis, basketball and volleyball enthusiast in Thippasandra, Jeevan Bima Nagar, G.M. Palya, Domlur and Indiranagar knew Riju George. He had played each of these sports competitively. He played first division cricket, national-level basketball, football at the zonal level and represented semi-professional club teams in badminton. To top it all, he was an outstanding student and went on to become a doctor.
“I played cricket and basketball at NAL grounds, football at the HAL sports club, badminton and tennis at DRDO, hockey at the BEML grounds. All this in a radius of three to four kilometres. I would just cycle it up,” he says.
Between them, defence establishments and PSUs such as HAL, NAL, DRDO, BEML, ASTE Murugeshpalya, ISRO and ITI had 35 sporting arenas that were all open to children from the surrounding areas. That included eight cricket/football fields, four hockey fields, four table tennis courts, five basketball courts, six volleyball courts, four badminton courts and four tennis courts.
Today, only one badly maintained cricket/football ground and one hockey ground (both located inside BEML) are open to the children from the surrounding areas. HAL Sports Club provides limited access to its heavily guarded cricket and hockey pitches as well as its swimming pool.
The rest – DRDO, NAL, ISRO, ASTE Murugeshpalya and ITI — have closed their door to children of non-employees.
“HAL had one badly maintained ground located between Thippasandra and J.B. Nagar. We used to somehow manage to play there but now they have closed the ground. I feel like crying because nobody is using it,” says 14-year-old Nischal Rajora. HAL has also walled in a ground adjoining its residential quarters near St. Thomas Church. Children from the nearby Anandapuram slum used to play here.
NAL, which has the best cricket, basketball and tennis courts, has also closed the facility to the public. It also has a basic badminton court. “Even former employees’ children cannot enter now,” says Thimmaiah, a basketball enthusiast. DRDO has a lush green, manicured cricket ground with a turf wicket, as well as four wooden badminton courts and squash court. Again, barred to outsiders.
“It was not like this even a few years ago. In some cases adults from outside were barred entry but children were never denied,” says Rahul Karunakar.
The problem that children here face is that the playgrounds outside, maintained by the BBMP, are in a pathetic state. What’s worse is that many small playgrounds in Thippasandra have been converted into landscaped botanical gardens with prominent signboards that say, “No playing sport.”
A spokesperson for DRDO says, “We understand our responsibility toward the local community but we take orders from the Ministry of Defence. We cannot take such decisions at our level.” His counterpart in NAL says, “We stopped entry on the advice of the Intelligence Bureau which perceived a security threat.”
An Air Force representative says, “The Murugeshpalya ASTE grounds belong to us. Why should we allow outsiders? Would you allow your house to be used by strangers?” The spokespersons for ISRO failed to explain how children playing in the Kendriya Vidyalaya school grounds, which lies outside their sensitive establishments, can pose a security threat.
Only HAL Sports Club provides limited access to its facilities for a small fee and issues entry passes to sportspersons from outside. Gopal Suthar, HAL Public Relations Officer, says, “Of course security is a concern but we also feel that as owners of such excellent sporting facilities, we have a responsibility toward the larger community. That’s why we screen people and issue passes.”