The Indian Railway Wrestling Academy in Kishan Ganj, north Delhi, is a scene of hectic activities these days as massive renovation work is being carried out to set up a “state of the art” wrestling stadium.
Raj Kumar, a retired international wrestler and coach at the academy which comes under the aegis of Northern Railways, says that on completion, the wrestling stadium will be one of a kind in the region.
“The department (Indian Railways) has already allocated a budget of Rs 30 crores. The wrestling centre will have all the modern facilities for practice,” Raj Kumar adds.
“There will be good facilities to conduct departmental and national level competitions.”
Indian Railways is one of the government departments employing outstanding players under sports quota.
Currently, there are more than 300 male wrestlers, including international and Olympic medallists like Bajrang Punia, employed with the Railways.
The cream of Indian women wrestlers, including Vinesh Phogat, are also with the Railways.
Work at brisk pace
While truck-loads of construction material can be seen being unloaded, work continues till late in the evening every day to ensure completion of the stadium within a deadline of 18 months.
“The construction work is being carried out in phases, so that practice [sessions] of the wrestlers is not disrupted,” adds the coach of the academy further.
India’s star wrestler and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games bronze medallist in the 65kg freestyle category, Bajrang Punia also comes to polish his skills here when he is not attending the national camp.
“The wrestling stadium in Kishan Ganj will certainly give fillip to the sport in the region,” Punia tells Patriot.
“There is also a proposal to allow budding players to use the facilities.”
The foundation work for the main indoor hall has already started in the first phase of the construction.
The main indoor hall, with a seating capacity of 500 spectators, will have two wrestling mats on the ground floor and one on the first floor. The first floor will also have a gymnasium hall meant for wrestlers’ fitness activities.
Adjoining the indoor hall will be an outdoor basketball court – for wrestlers to warm up – and a mud akhara.
A multi-storey hostel, with separate sections for males and females, is also part of the complex.
“The hostel will be spacious and shall be able to accommodate more than 100 athletes,” Raj Kumar reveals.
According to him, there is also a proposal to have a one-metre wide running track parallel to the boundary of the wrestling stadium.
“The running track will be more than 500m in length. Under one roof, players will also have facilities for general fitness,” the coach adds.
A strong base and history
Kishan Ganj and its association with sports, particularly wrestling, is four-decade old.
According to Gian Singh, an Olympian and a retired Railways wrestler, a mud akhara was established in the area for practice in the late 1970s by Roshan Lal, a former wrestler and the then Kishan Ganj station master.
“Roshan Lal was coach of the Railways team and a small group of wrestlers practiced in Kishan Ganj and stayed in rooms adjoining the akhara,” Gian Singh recalls.
The shed meant for the Railway engine was converted to a mud akhara.
Gian Singh joined the Northern Railways in 1983 and represented India at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games in wrestling.
“The atmosphere at the Kishan Ganj akhara was conducive for practice despite minimum facilities,” Gain Singh said of the good old days.
“It was good. We generally trained on the mud akhara. After practice, we would go out to get vegetables and other stuff to prepare our meals.”
With the passage of time, the perspective of the top Indian Railways officials broadened towards sports facilities and the mud akhara was upgraded.
An indoor wrestling hall (with one mat) was inaugurated here in 2014. India’s double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar was also present on the occasion.
Sushil was earlier asked to head the Indian Railway Wrestling Academy, which was announced in 2009 and was part of the then Union Railways minister’s initiative to have academies for wrestling (Kishan Ganj in Delhi), weightlifting (Kolkata) and athletics (Jaipur).
But the proposed wrestling academy remained on paper for a long time as nothing concrete happened since its announcement.
But after the inauguration of the one-mat wrestling hall in 2014, things began to move.
And now, Kishan Ganj is set to have a big and modern wrestling facility by the end of this year as additional space adjoining Railway colony has been acquired to extend the wrestling complex.
“That indoor hall will not be dismantled at the moment as it is being used for practice,” Raj Kumar confirms.
But some portion of the mud akhara has been dismantled due to the ongoing construction work.
“Since it was the Railways’ land, there was no problem in extending the boundary of the sports complex,” said the Railways wrestling coach.
The academy in Kishan Ganj is hardly a five-minute walk from the Pratap Nagar metro station on the Red Line and every second person in the area is aware of its existence.
Even local roadside vendors are familiar with the four-decade old wrestling centre in Kishan Ganj.
The wrestling centre has been home to Northern Railways wrestlers as preparatory camps are conducted here for Inter-Railways competitions.
Several former national and international wrestlers of the Railways have been allotted government accommodation in Kishan Ganj. This gives ample opportunity to school-going children of the Railway colony to flock to the academy in the evening.
Due to ongoing construction, one had to wade through heaps of construction material to reach the indoor wrestling hall which is adorned by Punia’s framed picture in red costume.
Among a group of wrestlers Patriot encountered are two school-going aspiring wrestlers who sweat it out on the weekends and are among Punia’s fans.
Garvit Chaudhary, a seventh-class student, whose parents have been associated with wrestling, wants to pursue the combat sport.
“I want to become a great wrestler,” he says when asked about his future plans.
Arnav Pawria, an eighth-class student too hails from a family of wrestlers.
Both Chaudhary and Pawria had the opportunity to meet Bajrang Punia in person when he had come to practice at the centre.
“You can achieve your goals with dedication and hard work,’ was what Bajrang Punia told us when he came here last time for practice,” the youngsters say in unison.