The playground at VY Public School in west Delhi’s Rohini reverberates with the laughter of children playing even after school hours.
Between four and six every evening, around 20 kids from the neighbourhood gather at the school, one of the few private ones to open its gates for children to ‘come and play’.
In the initiative proposed in 2012, the government said schools should let their space benefit citizens as many of them get land at concessional rates.
“Children living within three kilometres of a school should have access to the playgrounds during its non-school hours,” the proposal said.
The promise, however, is now lost in files. Its ineffective implementation and a change in government cost kids the access to play areas. Several such half-hearted efforts to revive Delhi’s play spaces are in the pipeline.
However, many schools and RWAs are taking it on themselves to improve the situation.
“There is a primary school just a few metres away from our colony where slum children go to play in the evening. It is a nice initiative that they have taken,” said Manohar Lal, a Patel Nagar resident.
Though the ground isn’t big, it safe for children to play, he said. “They don’t have to play on the roads and risk meeting with an accident,” said Lal.
RWAs return the favour. In south Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, colony parks are opened for students of schools that don’t have playgrounds.
“We maintain the park. By noon, municipal school teachers bring their students here for an hour to play. Students have lunch, play around and then return to their classes,” said Rajbir Bahl, president of B-block Vasant Kunj RWA.
Many schools operate in limited spaces and the parks around the area are all they have, Bahl said. He said two schools from the locality use the park.
Twelve-year-old Chandini said the deplorable condition of a playground in west Delhi’s Nihal Vihar where she lives prevent their parents from sending girls out to play even if they sometimes allow the boys.
“One part of the playground is filled with cow dung and garbage, and the other is occupied by drug addicts and alcoholics. Though many families allow their sons to go out and play in the playground, our parents would stop us citing safety concerns,” she said.
Chandini and other children in the slum cluster she lives decided to reclaim their right to play. NGO Butterflies, police and civic agencies evicted the hooligans from the ground. Now more children throng the park.
“I love to play. One hour in the evening is all we can spare. Now I regularly come out and play with my friends,” said Chandini. She is a crusader of the NGO’s ‘Right to Play’ initiative.
“I also go to other colonies to talk to children about the importance of playing and how we can join hands with the elders and save our parks,” she said.
Such collaborations between residents and government agencies can be a boon for children, said experts.
“Policies to reorganise space for accommodating children are necessary. Such initiatives by residents and NGOs show that the society is recognising the lack of play time as a serious issue,” said urban planner RK Mukhia.
He said the space sharing is the only way ahead, with rapid urbanisation.