Mumbai: Cricket academy using Oval Maidan despite ban, claim residents

The Churchgate residents have complained that a sports academy has been continuing its operations at Oval Maidan, despite a letter from the deputy-director of sports, on Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) orders, to discontinue all sporting activities on all maidans. Residents requested the Oval Maidan Trust to allow walkers and joggers to access the ground as well, as a sports academy was already using the ground.

On February 21, BMC observed a high level of occupancy at Oval Maidan at Churchgate. Given an increasing number of Covid cases, it asked the trust to close the ground. On February 26, the Oval Maidan Trust received a letter from deputy director for sports to close down the maidan.

Following such complaints, the Oval Maidan Trust approached the municipal commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal, requesting him to take action against the Vengsarkar Academy.

According to the letter written to the Oval Maidan Trust by the deputy-director of sports and youth services, the trust was asked to close the ground for sports activities for up to 10 to 15 people. The ground was allowed to be used only for practice purposes.

The Vengsarkar Academy said it has been following all standard operating procedure, as per a similar letter issued to all sports academies in the city, by the government, via the Mumbai Cricket Association.

Nayana Kathpalia, a trustee of Oval Maidan Trust, said, “We closed the ground on February 26, as per orders from BMC. All gates were closed. One small side entrance was kept open for cleaning purposes, and the academy used this entrance to access the ground. Residents who routinely use the ground approached the trust requesting us to allow walkers and joggers to access the ground as well since sports activities are being allowed. So we approached the municipal commissioner in this regard.”

Kathpalia said, “The academy is taking advantage of the clause that allows up to 15 people to practice on the ground. We told the municipal commissioner if cricketers are going to be permitted it will be very difficult for our security to control the general public from entering the ground. Also, in such a case, can the maidan be opened for other cricket pitches too?”

Residents also pointed to the trust that the Oval Maidan is used as a crossing, so pedestrians don’t have to go around the entire perimeter outside the maidan to get on the other side.

Phiroze Jhaveri, 73, a resident of Churchgate said, “We have been using the maidan for morning walks for many decades now. All senior citizens of our building also go there for walks, many walk their dogs there, and simultaneously cricketers practice there. Now, where will we take our walks? A ground is safer than the road for senior citizens.”

Dilip Vengsarkar, managing trustee of Vengsarkar Foundation said, “We have a letter by the state government and they have told us to follow SOPs that not more than 15 people will be permitted in one group. We do not know what kind of concerns residents have raised. We received this letter through the Mumbai Cricket Association. I am running the academy for the past 27 years, and we have produced many cricketers for India and the state. Many kids come from slums. I am giving back to the game and this is the infrastructure we need to do so. All kids wear masks, sanitise their hands, and all SOPs are strictly followed.”

Kathpalia pointed out that when the Oval Maidan Trust approached BMC’s A ward office with jurisdiction over the area, they were directed to approach the office of the deputy director of sports for action against the academy.

A senior civic officer who did not wish to be named said, “As per the letter, up to 15 sportspersons are allowed to practice on any ground. This is not the BMC jurisdiction as the letter was issued by the deputy director of sports.”

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