Not long ago, Pune had emerged as a hotbed for shooting aspirants when the ace rifle shooter Gagan Narang launched his Gun For Glory (GFG) Shooting Academy at the Balewadi Ranges. Seven years down the line, he operates from 19 academies across the country while in Pune, where it all began in 2011, the Maharashtra State Sports Directorate has done everything to shrunk the once-bustling academy into a virtual administrative location.
Shooting hasn’t stopped at the Balewadi range, but stricter conditions of hiring shooting stations have forced this celebrated academy to look for avenues that are welcoming and shorn of red tapes.
Once a sport of the rich and connected, shooting now has transformed into a discipline that anyone with patience and focus could take up as a career, thanks to the shooters like Narang, Jaspal Rana and Mansher Singh.
During their formative years, gun laws in India were archaic. No wonder, getting requisite ammunition for practice was cumbersome, to say the least. The change began around August 2004 when the current Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won India’s first individual Olympic silver medal at the Athens Games. He was a serving Major in the Indian Army then but never shied from saying what needed to be said.
That Athens silver literally spread silver lining around Indian shooting and when Abhinav Bindra won the air rifle gold medal in Beijing Olympics, exactly four years after Rathore’s silver, shooting just got the much needed push. In that same year, Pune hosted its first multi-sport extravaganza-the
Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) where athletes from 71 nations competed over nine disciplines including shooting.
Thankfully, after the Games were over, the facility created for the CYG was thrown open for use, unlike in 1994 when the arena created at the same location for the Pune National Games was locked for over 10 years to decay.
Suddenly, Pune became the only second Indian city to have an 80-station championship shooting range, Delhi’s Karni Singh Range in Tughlakabad, being the other.
Surely, shooting had found its new dawn and Pune was to play a big part in it. For reasons that even Gagan Narang would find it hard to explain, he chose Balewadi Range to start his academy in 2011. One year later at the 2012 London Olympics, he won his first Olympic medal and Pune celebrated the bronze medal. Yet his academy was always looked upon as a business activity and subsequent sports directors kept the academy on a watch-list-from giving notices to vacate and rent revision.
Shooting is a kind of sport wherein without government help, nothing much moves in India thanks to the gun laws. Even though procuring ammunition for practice has become much easier than in the days when Rathore was an active shooter, till today, every shooter has to deposit bullet shells at the gunnery in the range to be able to get new bullets.
In comparison, not so long ago when China decided to give shooting sport a push, they amended their gun laws - colloquially speaking, every shooter would get bucket full of bullets daily for practice, without paperwork.
Shooting needed to be handled differently than say wrestling or athletics, but for the bureaucrats, every sport was on the same pedestal.
And, as India began winning medals in shooting on the international stage, Gujarat was the first state to approach Narang to open his academy with full government backing. That was the first straw and Pune facility began losing its shine.
When the prospective shooters, who would come here from various states got ranges closer to home, the scenario changed.
Opening more academies, with the participation of responsive government and private entities, made more sense than carrying on with a situation like it became in Pune.
Come to think of it-2018 has seen the best ever season opening by Indian shooting-starting from Guadalajara World Cup in Mexico, Junior World Cup in Sydney and the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.
Manu Bhaker was a revelation as she won back-to-back gold medals in Mexico, Sydney and at Gold Coast. Then there were Akhil Sheoran, Aujum Moudgil, Om Prakash Mithraval, Elavenil Valarivan, who is mentored by Narang, and many others who put the Indian flag high.
The point of concern is, where are shooters from Maharashtra, the state which once had the maximum penetration in shooting?
There are shooters who are part of the national programme, but others have taken a giant leap while what should have become a nursery for shooting is decaying by the day in Pune. Junior World Cup champion Elavenil was the find of Ahmedabad Gun For Glory (GFG) where she learned her first lessons and after completing her studies she has shifted to Pune to train at Balewadi. The girl from Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, is making India proud and training in Pune, but there is no effort from the keepers of the facility to stem the corrosion of semi-open range.
In 2008 when this was a state-of-the-art range, no funds have been allocated since then for the upkeep. The wood is fragmenting into pieces, open targets are a blur-in comparison, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have taken a leap thanks to full governmental support.
It is high time the Maharashtra State Sports Directorate rises above its narrow thinking-why GFG and not a Maharashtra shooter run academy in Balewadi? Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh and many other states where GFG functions never had such an issue, instead they offered better terms and conditions to operate.
Consequently, with such a bureaucratic attitude, Maharashtra shooters, who once ruled shooting, are getting marginalised with the range in Balewadi slowly decaying and in a decrepit state.