Pollution, hostile residents, poor upkeep of parks — the reasons are plenty to keep children indoors. It makes them lose out on free play, a crucial part of growing up that has physical and emotional benefits
For children these days, it’s usually a choice between inhaling dusty air while playing in the open or sitting cooped up indoors with a video game joystick in hand —neither truly healthy.
“Sport is important for physical and mental growth of children. Yet, I don’t send my son to play here as this ground is full of dust,” said Ravi Dagar, a resident of Neb Sarai
Dagar referred to an open ground in Neb Sarai, where children and teens playing are barely visible through the dust. Doctors say fine particles, such as dust, can lead to serious illnesses when inhaled as they go deep into the lungs.
Polluted outdoors, few open spaces with poor, if any, maintenance, and hostility from elders and RWAs keep children from getting crucial physical exercise in their growing-up years.
While Dagar sends his 11-year-old son to the nearby Saket sports complex, not everyone in the urban village can afford it. The element of free play, intrinsically motivated and performed for no external reward, is also affected.
Unlike small towns, where community spaces host outdoor games, urbanisation left few options in Delhi.
“My daughter did not learn to ride bicycle till she was nine years old as we lived in Lajpat Nagar until then. There are no playgrounds there. The streets are unsafe for playing because of speeding drivers,” said Alok Bhatia, a resident of Freedom Fighter Enclave 41.
Parks are being converted into ornamental ones in Lajpat Nagar and other affluent localities such as CR Park and Mayur Vihar where they are used for community functions or to dump waste.
The park in south Delhi’s Freedom Enclave has a unique feature of a 12-foot statue of freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose. Few places in India can claim to have such a high quality statue of Bose, said residents. But weddings held there often dirty the park.
In unauthorised colonies such as Sangam Vihar, Lado Sarai and New Ashok Nagar have no open spaces.
Even Vasant Kunj, Dwarka, Krishna Nagar and Vasant Vihar that are lucky to have open spaces are marred by other problems. Children in Vasant Kunj and Krishna Nagar stay away from parks out of fear of dogs.
In Dwarka, residents often organise community functions in parks and fail to clean up after themselves, turning the parks into dump yards.
Out of the 14,000 parks in the city, only 126 are for children, show estimates. But government alone cannot be blamed.
“‘Don’t trample the grass, don’t break window panes and don’t destroy ornamental beauty’ are the remarks we generally hear when our children go to play in a park,” said Saurav Dikshit (34), a resident of Punjabi Bagh.
Elders, afraid of being hurt by a ball, ask children to go play elsewhere. Sometimes, the confrontation turns so ugly that police is called in to evict the children from the park.
Hakikat Rai Park in Jangpura is case in point where two of the four sections are earmarked for children to play.
“Civic body placed mud mounds in one section at the behest of residents, while they watered the other section so that it becomes muddy and children cannot play. The children keep home since the area has been unusable,” said Monu Chaddha, president of Resident Welfare Association.
A senior South Delhi Municipal Corporation official said he would inquire into the incident.
In May 2015, the Delhi High Court passed an order upholding children’s right to play in parks. It asked civic agencies to make playgrounds in every neighbourhood.
The court gave authority to Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) to intervene and suggest measures to maintain parks in the Capital.
DCPCR will soon come up with a report on the importance of parks in a neighbourhood and children’s right to play.
The previous government too made some efforts to provide play areas for children. Former sports minister Ajay Maken said areas in DDA parks should be demarcated for children’s play and other activities. This provision was included in the Delhi Master Plan.
“The number of sports complex has increased, but what is required is playfields where children can play,” he said.