Just a few months ago when Maharashtra Governor C Vidyasagar Rao was enjoying his stay at Raj Bhavan, Mahabaleshwar, a walk around the area led him to an adjacent polo ground. Enquiries soon revealed that after the British left, the ground has been lying idle and the sport had practically vanished from the scenic hill station.
“It is a polo ground, so why not use it for the sport,” was the Governor’s comment which led to a flurry of meetings to now framing a proposal for de-reserving forest land and reviving the polo ground.
Officials at the Governor’s office said high-level meetings have been held with the Satara district collector, state forest minister, tourism department and representatives of the Indian polo association to encourage the sport and start using the polo ground.
Traditionally, polo — called as the “sport of kings” — is played on horseback on a rectangular field with two-four member teams trying to score goals by hitting a white wooden ball through the goal posts with long mallets. “It was a favourite with the British who set up the ground at Mahabaleshwar which then was the summer capital of the Governor of old Bombay Presidency,” an official said.
“It has been more than 50 years since the ground has been used to play polo,” Suresh Tapuriah, polo expert and president of the Amateur Riders’ Club — the largest civilian club with 1,400 members in the country — told The Indian Express.
Tapuriah, who also represents the western zone of the Indian polo association, was involved in the exercise to revive the polo ground and said the mud has been washed away and there are stones on the ground. “A lot of work needs to be done, including sprucing up the ground and earmarking space for the spectators stand,” he said.
“There is no power and water, and space will have to be reserved for stabling the horses,” the polo expert said. However, despite the problems the eight-acre land, which belongs to the forest department, has been permitted for use by the Indian polo association for a fortnight,” Tapuriah said.
The move to spruce up the ground and revive the sport got a fillip ever since the Governor called a meeting on November 30. Subsequent meetings later had Satara district Collector Ashwin Mudgal sending a letter on December 15 to the forest department at Kolhapur to start work and cover the ground with mud and doob grass.
M N Mohite, Assistant Conservator of Forests, Satara, said that things have started moving fast. “As per the Forest Conservation Act 1980, in special cases forest land can be dereserved. While the proposal will be sent to the Centre, temporary permission can be given for a period of 15 days for conducting any other activity,” Mohite said.
At the Indian polo association, already plans have been made to use the ground in March 2016 for an exhibition game while the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has planned a polo and strawberry festival.