With neighbourhood parks turned into gardens and colony lanes lost to parking, children across the city are left with no space to play in. Ironically, it is the resident welfare associations – representative bodies – that have taken the lead to convert grounds into gardens ever since Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) empowered them to maintain colony parks under the public-private partnership (PPP) scheme.
“There is no space for us to play cricket. We are not allowed to play in the park, as it has been developed into an ornamental garden,” says Ashish, a student who lives in South Extension-I. MCD officials say they receive many complaints about disappearing playgrounds from parents. “We have asked all RWAs to allocate a portion of the park for children. In colonies where there are more than three parks, we advise them to leave one for children,” said a senior MCD official.
The Corporation has close to 15,000 parks, of which nearly 200 are for children. In a significant ruling last year, the Delhi high court had said no one can prohibit children from using a park as a playground. The court took a dim view of the Rajinder Nagar Welfare Association’s petition opposing fencing of a section of a local park by MCD.
In Malviya Nagar, children approached the area councillor to reclaim their playground which elders had “encroached upon”. “After the area councillor intervened, we developed one portion of the park especially for kids. Earlier, elders would not let children enter the park. Children have the first claim on colony parks as outdoor sports are important for their holistic development,” says Sanjiv Sood, president of B1 Block, Malviya Nagar.
But now, some RWAs have found a solution to the problem. In GK-I’s E-block, the park has been divided into three parts – for elders, teenagers and toddlers. “We have to cater to requirements of all the age groups. We have beautified the area and made seating arrangements for people who want to sit in the park. For teenagers, we have constructed basketball and tennis courts. For toddlers, playground equipment has been installed,” says Rajeev Kakria, president of the E-block RWA.
On the other hand, huge playgrounds developed by Delhi Development Authority in areas like Hauz Khas, Kalkaji, Rohini and Vikaspuri provide much-needed open spaces to children in the neighbourhood. However, there are only 26 such playgrounds in the city. Fifteen-year-old Sumit Syal, who lives in Uttam Nagar, says, “Every Sunday, I head to the playground in Vikaspuri as many of my friends stay there. We have long cricket sessions and it’s the time in the entire week. I could have played every day had there been such a playground near my place.”
Developed over the last decade, the playgrounds run into several acres and have cricket pitches, multi-gyms and mini football fields. Though DDA conducts sports activities throughout the year, catering to children in colonies is not exactly on its agenda.
“We are coming up with new playfields in collaboration with Delhi Police. They had identified areas near slums which they wanted us to develop as playgrounds so that they could divert juveniles towards sports. We have already developed at least six new playgrounds under this scheme. Eleven more are in the pipeline,” a senior DDA official said. The scheme was introduced by the lieutenant-governor in the wake of rising juvenile crime.
Delhi Police had identified 24 sites of which only 17 were found to be owned by DDA. The playgrounds on these sites have facilities for football, basketball and volleyball and are being maintained by Delhi Police. “However, there are no plans to construct more general playgrounds. It depends on the availability of land,” he added.