THE SHILLONG RECREATION GROUND TRUST

 By D.M.Tham

By the late 1890’s Shillong town was well settled and the European community had a fully established club, the Shillong Club which had been founded in 1878 for some of their recreational activities but had no playing fields for their popular outdoor games like football, hockey, cricket and horse polo. A group of six British gentlemen, all prominent residents and whose names were P.R.T. Gordon, William McMurdo Sweet, George Russel Row, Robert Herriot Henderson, Charles Howard Holder and George Loftus Garth, then decided to do something about it and forthwith called for a meeting of high-ranking administrators and prominent citizens on the 12th of November 1901 to come up with suggestions on how to go about setting up the playing fields. They all finally agreed that the only way out was to clear the area to the north of the Shillong station popularly known as the ‘Umkhrah Valley’ which then consisted of a few paddy fields and unhealthy marsh land. To go about obtaining these lands, the six gentlemen then decided to form a Trust to be called ‘The Shillong Recreation Ground Trust’ which will go about the business of purchasing land in the ‘Umkhrah Valley’. The Trust was registered with the government on the 22nd of April 1905. Funds amounting to Rs.35,000.00 were raised through debentures and the outright purchase of the land which extended from the main Polo road up to the J.N. Stadium complex, was made over three years in 1902, 1903 and 1904.

        The first and immediate herculean task of the Trust at that time was to divert the course of the Umkhrah river which ran through the paddy fields (now the 2nd and 3rd grounds). The work was allotted to one Mulla Buksh for filling and levelling the old course of the river, the earth being dug up from a nearby ground and in the process, formed a tank which the Khasis called ‘Ka Nan U Bok’.

        From 1907, the S.R.G.T. appointed an agency i.e., the General Sports Committee, to start conducting regular races, gymkhana, football, hockey and other games on behalf of the Trust. On the other hand, the Shillong Polo Club, also under the Trust, used to conduct polo games and players came from far and wide to take part. The horse racing was run by an appointed body of stewards which later became known as Shillong Gymkhana Races. Sadly, the horse racing ended in 1968 having been ‘killed’ off by the ‘siat teem’.

From the early days, only responsible people with a good reputation were appointed as Trustees. One Trustee, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, a lawyer by profession, rose to become the President of India.

All Trustees are appointed as per the power conferred upon the Trustees by the Trust Deed. All appointments must be registered at the Deputy Commissioner’s office without fail. Hence, a Trust cannot ‘die’ but can carry on indefinitely as long as Trustees are legally appointed.

The present Trustees are: – Messrs J.M. Pariat, Mr.Wallamphang Roy, G.P. Wahlang, D.M. Pariat and the Deputy Commissioner, East Khasi Hills, as an ex-officio member.       

 The SRGT’s association with the local Sports bodies is recorded below:

SRGT and Shillong Sports Association – In the year 1916, the General Sports Committee, an agency representing the SRGT and with the consent of the Trust, allowed the SSA, through mutual understanding, to make use of what is now the 1st Ground for sporting activities. While the SSA ran the tournaments on the 1st Ground, the G.S.C. took care of the maintenance of all the playing fields. The Trust continued running the horse races, polo, horse riding, cricket etc. The arrangement with G.S.C. was terminated by the Trust in August 1976 and thereafter, at the request of the SSA, the SRGT agreed to the use of the ground by the SSA. Another fresh 30-year lease agreement, effective from 1st January 2012, was agreed upon with the SSA and signed on the 21st February 2017.

Over the years the Trust had always stepped in to help the SSA like when the Trust had granted an extra two-meter strip of land to accommodate the 1st ground gallery in 2014. Extra land was also given along the road so that SSA could erect a proper wall.

Over the last 100 years, cordial relations were maintained between the SRGT and the SSA and problems were always solved in a gentlemanly manner across the table. The Trust is happy that the SSA, through the leased 1st ground, had done good work through the years and was responsible for the emergence of many a noted player.

SRGT and State Sports Council, Meghalaya – Similarly, when the government wanted land for their Sports Directorate, it was the SRGT that offered a one-time lease to the SSCM for about 30 acres of land vide a lease agreement signed on the 16th April 1979 at a nominal rent of Rs.2000.00 per year – this is now the J.N. Stadium complex.

SRGT and Meghalaya Football Association – In 2010, another plot was leased out to the Meghalaya Football Association for setting up the State’s first artificial turf field vide an agreement signed on the 10th July 2010 at a nominal amount of Rs.1000.00 per year for 30 years – a ridiculously low amount but this was done so that local footballers could play on something that was new to them.

The rent received from the leased lands is a pittance but the Trust puts greater importance on encouraging sports. Whatever financial benefits that are derived from events, the few shops and the parking lot, all go to the expensive upkeep of the existing infrastructure and as funds raised are not enough, the Trust has to look to other avenues for raising badly needed revenue.

Every year the Trust provides financial support to the P.G.H.S. School nearby which stands on land given by the Trust plus helping out with the maintenance of the school building. The 3rd Division football tournament has also been sponsored by the Trust for several years now.

The SRGT Parking Lot has been of great service to the people from all over by catering to the parking of hundreds of local and tourist taxis, tourist buses, local cars and providing overnight parking to the nearby car owners thus relieving congestion in the localities. The parking lot is also able to cater to the parking of hundreds of cars when there are sporting and government events and without this parking lot, events would be nightmarish.

         The contribution of the S.R.G.T. to the field of sports, though indirectly, has been tremendous but at present the Trust’s focus is on providing a sporting area at the 2nd ground for young people who come from lower economic strata who cannot afford to pay playing fees to play at the nearby stadia, especially children from near and far-off schools and localities. The 2nd ground is also especially kept for ‘free of charge’ events like the Rongbiria U Khasi, several archery events of the Seng Khasi and rural folk and other local games and sports. The 2nd ground is also being made available to the deprived sections of society as part of the Trust’s social welfare program.  The Trust is also attempting to set up a river side park and a stage where people can go and relax and play or listen to music with their families. Hundreds of trees have been planted to try and improve the air quality. Through the years the skills of many players in the various sports were honed on the playing fields created by those far thinking people almost 120 years ago and we owe it to them to keep the place ‘Going’.

 (Author is the member-secretary of SRGT)

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