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Children on shaky ground

Rasheed Kappan, Bengaluru, DH News Service, Sep 3 2017, 0:51 IST
DH PHOTOS/SHIVAKUMAR B H

DH PHOTOS/SHIVAKUMAR B H

Sprawling in its expanse, the playground deep inside the city’s crowded Bamboo Bazaar area has defiantly endured the reckless march of the concrete jungle. But as hundreds of children pack this coveted open space to indulge their sporting passions, the shadows of a new Metro station loom large. Bulldozers on the horizon threaten to take away another ground.
For lakhs of children, these fast-receding open spaces have been the only avenue for games. Grounds across the city have been gobbled up by real estate sharks, greasing the palms of the official machinery. The few remaining ones are now being targeted for Metro stations, Indira canteens and other so-called development projects.

Alternatives available
The Bamboo Bazaar ground could be easily spared if the Railways and Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) agrees on a Metro station location near the Cantonment parking lot. Frustrated by the lack of any such agreement, citizens came out in protest last fortnight to save the BBMP ground. BMRCL, they were clear, cannot take the easy way out by taking over land that had ‘children’ written all over.

The BBMP ground hosts about 10-12 cricket and football tournaments every year. Says Azhar Ahmed, an aluminium fabricator who has been playing there for decades: “There is no such ground within 5-6 kms from here. For many schools in this area, this is the only place to play.”

Heavily used ground
Thousands of people flock to the ground for the Bamboo Bazaar Premier League (B2PL) where 10 cricket teams from across Bengaluru and beyond fight it out during January every year. The Karnataka Champions Trophy and Unique Creation Premier League (UCPL) get the football fans as well.

If plan for the Cantonment Metro Station goes ahead, most parts of this ground will be barricaded, spelling curtains for the tourneys.

Children here are vociferous when they clearly say they don’t want their ground to be used for anything else but sports.

The chotamaidan adjacent to the Shivajinagar bus stand is another play area identified for an underground Metro station. Here too, the concerns are similar although BMRCL insists that only a portion of the ground will be acquired.

Shivajinagar maidan
Sixty-three year-old Naseer Ahmed, a veteran footballer in the area, recalls the ground was one of Bengaluru’s first arenas for the game. “This was where the famed football team of old, the Bangalore Muslims, mostly played during the 1940s. I should even say this was the birthplace of the city’s football culture. We will not allow the ground to be taken away from us,” he asserts.

In one corner of the ground, three to four teenagers were playing football in full attire. But they were blissfully unaware of the ground’s fate. Informed that part of the place will go for a Metro station, they appear shocked. Sensing their discomfort, Ahmed adds the government cannot take away their joy.

Lacking a school ground of their own, students of the BBMP boys’ high school nearby also use this space for their physical education sessions. “I have been playing and practicing football here for the last four years. This is the only ground in the vicinity. Losing this space will be really bad,” says Stalin Prashanth, another footballer guiding the youngsters.

Encroachments
The trend is the same in many other parts of the city, where playgrounds have either vanished completely or face threats from Indira canteens and encroachers of every hue. Proper play areas are hard to find in localities such as Banashankari 6th Stage, Visvesvaraya Layout and even some BDA-approved layouts. In most revenue layouts in the newly added BBMP areas, there is no concept of a playground at all.

Sports clubs run by public sector undertakings were once open to all, benefiting children from all surrounding areas. But they are now being excluded. The HAL Sports Club, which helped thousands of neighbourhood children fine-tune their hockey, badminton, basketball and football skills, now allows only employees and their children.

Former Ranji player and secretary of Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) Sudhakar Rao says he was lucky to start his cricket career at the National High School grounds. “But today, there is an acute shortage of grounds. Very few schools have their own play areas. Children hardly go out to play these days. I feel sorry for this generation,” he laments.


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