Special: Where do our children go out to play?

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First, the land mafia came for other people’s lands, and nobody protested. Then they came for the lake beds, and we didn’t protest. Then they took over government lands and civic amenity sites, and no one said anything. Now, our schools run out of tiny, rented buildings, and playgrounds are non-existent. Welcome to modern Bengaluru, where children are denied the right to learn and play. DC reports.
That the city is growing increasingly congested is no secret. But sadly, in the process it appears to be squeezing out what is left of its playgrounds, and on the way to creating a population lacking in exercise and fresh air.
The lack of lung space is particularly harmful to children who constitute 40 per cent of Bengaluru’s population as they have little room left to exercise or play. With traffic increasing, it has become risky for them to play on the roads even in residential neighbourhoods that were once quiet enough to allow this.
And if they go looking for playgrounds they are unlikely to come across them anymore in many localities, giving them no opportunity to stretch their limbs or enjoy a game outdoors with friends.
Go to Malleswaram, Sadashivnagar or Rajajinagar and you find that many of the major playgrounds here have barred entry for the general public at many points to allow various clubs to conduct their sports classes in them.
To blame appears to be the real estate boom and the mushrooming of schools in the city which have both gobbled up most of Bengaluru’s playgrounds.
Urban planners regret that despite the rules which say that at least 15 per cent of the land area should be demarcated for playgrounds in any layout, this is hardly followed. 
While some civic amenity sites are allotted on paper to private clubs for  a badminton  or  tennis court,  they end up using them to establish bars. Other CA sites are converted into parks used mainly by adults  for their morning walks and exercise,  leaving the children little space they can call their own, they note.
P. Lakshapati, Executive Director, Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA), blames the lack of playing areas for children’s growing addiction to computer and mobile games. “Today the gaming parlours in the city are teeming with youngsters because they have no open spaces to play in. This will harm their heath in the long run. Many apartments allow their children to play in the parking areas, but what  about the lakhs of children who do not live in apartments?” he asks.
Dr T V Ramachandra of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) too warns that removing the city’s lung spaces will have an adverse impact on its weather and people.  "Earlier lakes were a recreational spot for the entire family, but today they are fast disappearing,” he observes.
Building blocks of an ugly future
Taking no interest in the children’s need for exercise, most schools in the city have no playgrounds. Worse, some of them are using what open space they have to build additional blocks and accommodate more classrooms to cater to more students and increase their commercial viability.
The trend has been growing following the amendment to the Right To Education Act in October 2012, which allows a school to operate so long as it can use community grounds in  nearby areas as playgrounds, say child rights activists.
“In the past it was mandatory for schools to have playgrounds, but now after the amendment,  private schools are being allowed to come up even  in congested urban areas. Many schools today operate in rented buildings which don’t even have proper ventilation let alone playgrounds,” regrets Vasudeva Sharma, convener,  Karnataka Child Rights Observatory.

Noting that most  open spaces in the city are being  taken over by private  club owners and for exhibitions and rallies, he says the open grounds that remain don’t have facilities for differently abled children.
“Often parents of these children find they have no parks to take them to as they have no facilities catering to them,” he adds.
Voice of a citizen journalist
Manju George
If the government takes care even of the parks that are already  demarcated for development and maintenance, it will take care of the current space crunch children are facing. It is also important that the area allocated for park development in approved and private layouts is used for the purpose mentioned. 
This has to be  monitored by the  authorities concerned.  As for the parks we have, we are so tuned to installing play equipment  in them that we forget they only take care of children below 10. What are the older children expected to do for  physical activity? They require space for running and playing games like cricket, football and so on.
Instead of beautifying them with lawns which require lots of manpower and water for maintenance, why don't we convert these open spaces into playgrounds for older children? 
We should also start thinking about having more tree parks which could take care of the pollution to an extent and  save on money and human resources as well. While parks with dry lawns in summer are a common sight, having trees instead will leave them green and bring in more birds and squirrels.
Another aspect to consider is that we only design parks for normal children. Why can't we add an inclusive play space which  does not require a huge change in design? For example, instead of two single swings on a pole, we could add a bucket swing so that disabled children could also play.
Every park should have an inclusive play space as every community has disabled children. It provides an opportunity for these children to mingle and socialise in an informal way, and reduces the stigma attached to their disability.
The outdoor activity can help them learn many things, and build  their motor and sensory and communication skills too.
(The author is working on Public Space and Pedestrian Rights at Evangelical Social Action Forum, an NGO)

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