The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Olympic (MGMO) swimming pool in Dadar, the crown jewel of public pools in Mumbai and certainly one of the oldest, has been dry since August 2015.
The non-functional pool seen through the fence
This is a 10-lane Olympic-size swimming pool, and has a neighbouring cluster of three pools, a deep pool built exclusively for diving, the second being a recreational pool and the third, a shallow one for kids. The old pool was revamped into this swank, new facility just four years ago. It also has a spectators’ gallery which can seat 600 persons.
A green tarpaulin obscuring part of the view of the pool
As water wars erupt everywhere, swimming pool members have been taking rounds of the swimming pool complex since months, in the hope that it will re-open, even though sporadically, soon.
Vikram Mulay (l) and Rahul Gupte (r) point to the spot of the borewell (inset) Shashi Prabhu
The skeletal staff at the pool, doing some file work stated, “It will re-open in the monsoon, that is, if we have a good monsoon. We cannot give you an exact date. It will open when the first showers come, or maybe, after that.”
(From l) Nandkumar P, Dhananjay P, Rahul G, Suresh B and Vikram M. Pics/Ajinkya Sawant
Members, many from the Dadar belt, claim that there was a borewell in the vicinity, which was shut off during the new construction, by celebrated architect Shashi Prabhu. Says member Rahul Gupte, “We had a great natural resource for water, a borewell which could at least be used for showers in the changing rooms. This is the only pool that has been closed for nine months, with no sign of starting. Today, the situation may be acute but earlier, there was a 20 per cent water cut, not 100 per cent, so why has the pool been closed for so long?”
Regular swimmers Nandkumar Pathre, Dhananjay Paradkar and Suresh Banjan claim that a number of health problems like backaches and knee problems have re-surfaced because of closure, while, Vikram Mulay claims that his son’s competitive training has been interrupted.
Mumbai’s well-known architect, Shashi Prabhu, who has a slew of sporting infrastructure to his credit, including the Wankhede Stadium, strongly refutes claims that he has closed off a borewell, which supplied water to the pool. “People talk rubbish. Why should I close a borewell? Besides, I am an architect, not a contractor, so I cannot close any well.” Prabhu added that many pools are closed because of water shortage, “when there is no water for drinking, then, swimming is a luxury.” Prabhu did add though, "These four pools which have been closed for nearly nine months, cannot be kept dry for so long. They will develop cracks. After all, a pool is a water body."
The closest public pool to this facility, the Kamgar swimming pool, at Elphinstone has been operating on borewell water.
When we visited the site, there was a little water in the pools just about shin high, but access was cut off and green tarpaulin was slung across the fencing.
Some members claimed that, “They could have kept the pool going for at least two days a week.” Another added that, “instead of all four pools, only one could have been operational.”
Ramakant Biradar, BMC assistant municipal Commissioner, G North ward, states that the pool has been closed because of the BMC water cut. “Most BMC pools are closed, and we will re-start when the first showers come.”
Champions though claim that there are other pools in the city that are open. V K Moses, whose daughters are national level swimmers says, "My daughters now practice at the Police Pool in Worli, Glenmark Pool in Dharavi, Kamgar Pool in Parel and the Mulund Pool. They also sometimes swim at Mafatlal Pool at Charni Road.” He adds, "I have to beg for permissions for them to swim elsewhere, since the MGMO pool has been closed."
Sayali Gudhekar Kawale, water polo captain, Maharashtra, said, "While we are sensitive to the drought, it is strange that other pools have water, but this one does not. We now practice for one hour, four days a week at another pool. Earlier, we would practice every day for five hours.
Polio-afflicted handicapped swimmer Manoj Khaire has not practiced swimming since the MGMO pool closed last August. said, “I cannot afford to pay the fees of other pools. My competitive edge has been lost.”
The old MGMO pool was under renovation since 2006, and, the spanking new impressive facility thrown open to the public in 2011. The current membership is Rs 5400 per annum. Pool staffers claimed, “When we re-open, new memberships will be given at Rs 6,000 per year. Yet, we have to give extensions to all those who have missed a year of swimming at least. We have nearly 30,000 members.”
When the new facility opened in 2011, queues snaked around at the Shivaji Park complex, with many queuing up all night for a membership.
Members insist that the prolonged closure is unwarranted, and, some options could have been explored, like so many sporting facilities are doing. to keep functioning in these days of scarcity.