In 2016, then chief minister J Jayalalithaa announced 50 crore for setting up ‘Amma’ gyms in parks and playgrounds and upgrading existing facilities. Many were rebranded and new ones came up with dumbbells, EFX machines, bench press and hydraulic pull and row machines.
Six years on, a visit to gyms in Aminjikarai, Anna Nagar, Kilpauk, Choolai, Royapuram and Korukkupet found them either closed or without equipment. The one at Choolai market in north Chennai has no signboard and is being used as a community hall. The one on 24th Road, N Block, Anna Nagar, is now a PDS fair price shop and godown, with no gym equipment. On Wall Tax Road, the defunct gym has broken club-bells and hydraulic machines, gathering dust for years.
The corporation’s indent includes treadmills and cycling machines but no gym that a visit by TOI found. There are no toilets, water taps, instructors or gym staff. In many places, the keys are with residents of the area who use the gym daily.
While officials say no centralised funds have been allotted for maintenance, a RTI reply given by the corporation to Arappor Iyakkam volunteer Naveen Rajan T showed 20 lakh sanctioned in 2020 for maintaining four gyms in Thiruvottiyur zone. The corporation in another RTI reply said 2.6 crore was allotted for a gym in Madhavaram, but an audit by activists found no equipment there. “We do not know how funds are put to use. Only the poor who may need these gyms, are affected,” said Naveen.
Corporation officials say the gyms are mostly renovated and maintained through MLA funds. “Once we open and place the equipment, maintenance is only need-based. If zones seek funds for renovation, we give. Otherwise, they renovate or buy equipment with MLA funds,” said Panbarasan, an assistant executive engineer with the parks department.
Under Nalamigu Chennai, a component of Singara Chennai, the corporation has installed equipment in parks maintained by private contractors and 29 parks now have fitness equipment. “Up to 50 crore are likely to be allotted for setting up more parks. We plan to expand this project and tender progress is going on,” said Panbarasan.