Just treadmills can’t make city healthy

  • Shivani Singh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
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  • Updated: Mar 25, 2013 00:31 IST

Presenting her government’s 15th consecutive budget and her third as finance minister, Shiela Dikshit, who seeks re-election in eight months, offered no sops. Instead, she stepped up spending on health, education and transport. Health,  received the biggest boost ever with a 33% hike in allocation.  Dikshit promised to open tobacco cessation clinics to help citizens quit smoking, offered Rs 1 lakh to resident bodies to buy and install treadmills for public use, and declared 2013 as the year of prevention and early detection of diabetes and hypertension.

Delhi ranks high in obesity, smoking and cardiovascular disease and the government’s focus on wellness was much needed. Municipal records show that heart diseases, diabetes, asthma, renal failure and cancer are responsible for more than 20% of all deaths in the city.

Lifestyle diseases are assuming a rather democratic pattern in Delhi. While communicable diseases due to bad sanitation and no access to clean water still kill many in the city’s slums, a survey by the Directorate of Health Services two years ago, found that at least 20% of the one lakh slum dwellers screened were suffering from hypertension and 10% from diabetes.

For a city to be considered healthy, its citizens must enjoy equal access to clean water and air, sanitation and good healthcare. Promoting healthy habits among citizens and providing enough open space for physical activities are equally important.

In a survey conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in 2011, Minneapolis was rated the healthiest city in the US. Its residents enjoyed clean air and exercised to keep their weight down. They were supported by the city administration that was among the first to set up cycling and walking trails and ban smoking in public places. It opened many fitness centers so that residents could exercise even during harsh winters.

Delhi has its fair share of open spaces: more than three acres per 1,000 people as compared to just 0.03 acres in Mumbai. Yet, in our weather-proof lifestyles, most of us have forgotten how to enjoy the outdoors. No wonder so many people are complaining of Vitamin D deficiency due to minimal exposure to the sun.

But the citizens of Delhi are not the only ones to blame. Designated as VIP zones, some of the Capital’s best open stretches are out of bounds for the commoners. Yes, there are 14,500 community parks and gardens and 42 city forests in Delhi. But one in three parks is an ornamental garden where sports is prohibited and one in 15 occupied by encroachers. The budget for parks has not been revised in many years. The three municipal corporations spend R500 crore on parks, of which R428 crore goes in paying salaries to gardeners and the horticulture staff.

The city’s walking and cycling tracks are mostly disjointed patches in Delhi. The longest stretch of 5.8 kilometres along the BRT corridor is perpetually occupied by cars and two-wheelers. The Delhi Development Authority runs athletic facilities but most are difficult to get into, thanks to cumbersome membership procedures. While handing out treadmills to RWAs, the government is expected to secure the city’s open areas against encroachment and neglect. But parks or exercise regimes cannot compensate for clean water, or fresh air  

Delhi will not be a healthy city as long as the Yamuna receives untreated solid waste from every second Delhi resident, the leaky sewage network connecting the other half of the city’s population contaminates its water supply and the rapid swelling of the country’s biggest private vehicle fleet overshadows the gains of making CNG compulsory for public vehicles nine years back.


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