IITB students reclaim their Gymkhana grounds

When wronged by administrative apathy, some of us complain hoarse. There are some who preach to the whiners, exhorting them to action. And then there are some who simply act.

Most of us know the events which transpired before the 50th convocation of IIT Bombay which saw a flutter of top politicians visiting the campus. In consultation with the PMO, the director ordered construction of 3 helipads. One each for the Prime Minister, the HRD minister and the Chief Minister. Rapid construction ensued over five days and four nights, amounting to over 25 lac rupees. Floodlights and trees were uprooted overnight; trees which otherwise aren’’t allowed by the forest department to be uprooted, even if to stop panthers from jumping fences. The feverish pace of construction produced 3 large helipads. For the ministers’ comforts, roads were paved to connect these pads to the main road.

The sports fraternity woke up to find workers rapidly digging the Gymkhana grounds. GS Sports and the SAC in-charge approached the Dean SA to find out reasons for the grounds being ravaged. On the DoSA’s enquiry, the Director informed them of his decision which was conceived in a special convocation meeting.

With the VVIPs slated to visit soon, the Institute Functionaries harbored false information of a mass student protest on the grounds. This agitated quite a few feathers in the institute administration. A meeting was scheduled with the Estate Officials, SAC In-charge, GS Sports and the GSHA, wherein the Director promised full restoration of the SAC grounds within 15 days of convocation. The sports community, assured by the Director, was temporarily pacified and it rejoined the revelry of their convocated seniors.

Twenty days after Dr. Manmohan Singh folded his palms in the renewed convocation hall to a standing ovation, the Estate Office hasn’t moved a brick. The construction caused severe disruption to sports activities on campus. The grounds were rendered unusable for many sports . Inter-IIT practices have been severely disrupted. Crucial practice matches with Mumbai teams were cancelled. Deep tyre marks on the grounds have become puddles and moats, impossible to grow grass on for sometime. Campus residents have started using helipads as picnic spots with their families.

Amidst this, the Chief Minister used the helipad on the 7th of September for a visit to Renaissance. There are fears of this becoming a norm rather than an exception made once in 50 years.

The GS Sports and other student representatives met with insufferable ambiguity when they sought updates. The Dean and SAC In-charge weren’’t updated by the Estate officials, who themselves gave vague non-committal replies. Replies which never progressed beyond ““we are working on the tenders””.

A disillusioned football team decided to do the job themselves. Six-thirty in the evening on the 5th of September, the team met on the grounds, aided with shovels and pickaxes provided by the groundstaff. A group of around 40 worked in the rain to reclaim their grounds brick by brick.

Soon the news spread, of a bunch of people nondescriptly restoring what was once theirs. Posters and mails went over the campus on the 7th, exhorting people to lend a hand. The response was heartwarming. Around 100 people turned up. Inter-IIT regulars were spotted along with those who had never stepped into the grounds post their 1st year NSO trials. The number of people pitching in for the labour every evening is slowly on the rise.

The most striking feature of the episode was the solidarity on display. People from all walks of IIT life converged on the fields. Many joined to form long chains to act as human conveyor belts. Prof. T T Niranjan came down to the grounds, to take pictures and mobilise support among the faculty for the cause. Hostel G.Secs arranged for wheelbarrows to help ferry away the bricks and gravel. Most councils could be seen wielding axes or hurling broken slabs.

There was hope that as the news spreads, the Director would take notice and get things moving. The morning of the 8th of September indeed saw a JCB truck arrive on the grounds to fast-track the restoration. Protests at IIT Bombay have evolved, and how.