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A tale of two swimming pools

The Delhi Government has taken another inspired initiative in the education sector by providing two state-run schools in the trans-Yamuna area with swimming pools

A swimming pool with crystal clear water, proper training facilities, diving boards and separate changing rooms for boys and girls within the premises of a school. At first glance, this seems to be a description of one of the many facilities at a posh private school. But this is a scene straight out of two government schools in Delhi.

As part of ‘Mission Buniyaad’ to increase the standard of learning and infrastructure in government schools of the city, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Education Manish Sisodia inaugurated two new swimming pools in two government schools – the Annie Besant Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya at Pocket B, Mayur Vihar Phase II and the Rajkiya Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in West Vinod Nagar.

These two swimming pools is, in fact, a welcome addition in the swimming facilities in the city, which is certainly not sufficient. According to the official statistics, 226 swimming pools are registered with Delhi Police. So, if every person in Delhi wants to become a swimmer, each pool will have to accommodate 628 people. However, according to the standards set by Delhi Police, a 50-metre pool has a capacity of 80 people, while a 25-m pool can hold 50 people at a time.

“Swimming is a sport that has always been out of the limelight in India,” says former national and international swimmer Meenakshi Pahuja. “The lack of proper infrastructure has always been a hindrance in the path of producing good swimmers,” she adds. In fact, prior to the inauguration of these two swimming pools, the Delhi government had only 15 pools to their name, while the rest were all under different associations like YMCA, SAI and NDMC. “The last swimming pool that was opened by the Delhi government was the one at Mangolpuri way back in 1994.” So, the government has taken such an initiative after almost a quarter of a century.

The pools at the two schools are 25 metres long and the depth varies on either side as the pool floor is slanting in shape. Each pool has eight proper dive boards. According to the authorities of both schools, there will be training sessions both in the morning and in the afternoon, of two hours each, while there will also be a separate hour for training girls. The coaches and lifeguards will all be on the payroll of the Delhi government while maintenance of the pool will too be covered by them. The only duty of the school will be to look after the pool during the period October-March when it will be closed.

“We chose these two schools as the government had no such pools in the trans-Yamuna belt in East Delhi, and no swimmers were coming from that area who could represent the state in national competitions. So, we decided to open the two new swimming pools in that area,” says Sawoo Tyagraj, sports supervisor of the Education Department of the Delhi Government.

Gomti Devi, the Vice Principal of Annie Besant Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya is ecstatic that the government chose her school to be part of such a major infrastructural development. “There is serious shortage of playgrounds and swimming pools for children to play in.  With the inauguration of a basketball court and a swimming pool within a span of two years, has enhanced our school’s reputation a lot.” She says that the new swimming pool is garnering a lot of attention, and they have already handed over 100 forms. The pools are not only open to students of the school, but to students across the city. All they have to do is fill up a form and they are ready to train at the facilities at the newly opened swimming pools.

While the government is providing all state-of-the-art facilities in these pools, they have kept it completely free of cost for the trainees This is a unique feature that sets these two pools apart from the others in the city. While a swim at the pools in the 52 luxury hotels across the city ranges from a few thousand to Rs 2.3 lakh per day, the pools owned by the NDMC, DDA and various private clubs of Delhi also charge fees. The annual fees for the Siri Forts Complex swimming pool owned by the DDA is Rs 3,000. In fact, 81 of the 96 pools registered in schools are of private schools, and they too charge a fee for their services. The Delhi Public School in RK Puram charges Rs 1,200 a month for their swimming training.

“We have raw untapped talent all across the city who could not pursue their career in swimming just because of the amount of money that pool authorities charge for training. So, having facilities which cater to everyone absolutely free of cost is necessary to produce more and more good swimmers”, feels Meenakshi Pahuja.

So, how would the government maintain the swimming pool if they receive no fees from the students? “The maintenance, the fees of the specially trained lifeguards and coaches will all be taken care of by the Delhi Government. We intend to make sure that all the children enjoy the experience of swimming irrespective of their economic backgrounds,” says Tyagraj.

However, the pools still need some improvements to make them a class apart. According to the authorities of both the schools, the swimming pools do not have separate female coaches. While the Annie Besant Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya authorities has submitted a written plea to the government for this purpose, the authorities at the Rajkiya Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya have not taken any action as of yet.

Another improvement that the government can make in these pools, according to Meenakshi Pahuja, is to arrange for heater systems so that they do not remain shut during the winter seasons. “All world class swimmers practise throughout the year, but since most of the pools in Delhi remain shut from October to March, the children will remain idle and this will reduce their stamina. So, it is my plea to the government to make sure that these pools are heated during winters, just like the Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Swimming arena in Talkatora Stadium.”

For Delhi Government, however, this is not the end of the road as it has set aside more than Rs 1,200 crores for the development of the different government schools around the city. “We have our next pool lined up to be opened in a school in Paschim Vihar and are looking for more and more spaces in different schools so that we can provide them with more and more facilities like pools and playgrounds,” says Sawoo Tyagraj.

“This is a welcome initiative by the government as it will improve sports at a very basic grassroot level,” says a hopeful Pahuja.