It is not uncommon for any Indian to see children playing in the street. While a child recklessly runs on the road following an errant ball, you swerve abruptly and after glaring at the unapologetic child (who has gone back to the game) you move on without giving the incident a second thought. Ever wondered why this happens with the frequency that it does? It is because those children have nowhere else to play due to the lack of public parks and playgrounds in the country.
As India grew with the growth of its population and GDP, cities became the hub of all activity. It was boom time for real estate as building after building sprang up; the boom was so rewarding that government officials put aside overall city planning in order to reap its benefits. Hence, the land set aside for the construction of public parks was allotted to builders. On the onset, this decision may not have had any immediate impact on the residents of the neighbouring areas but slowly a perceptible change is noticed- the roads and verandas have become the new playgrounds.
Some might argue that this is not true for all cities. Relatively planned cities like Chandigarh and Delhi have adequate playgrounds especially the former, which has a minimum of four parks in every sector. This effort is laudable however it is very hard to follow for cities like Pune and Mumbai which are cramped for space. Even as huge townships are being built, which promise adequate playing areas for children, boards declaring ‘No dogs and cricket allowed’ are being put up on the same lawns. Residents of such establishments prove to be extremely finicky about their peace and quiet and are hence against the utilization of their lawns as playing areas. It is the children who are left in the lurch.
Even for those that belong to the lower strata of the society, the road seems to be the most credible option. Public parks, even the few and far between, are mostly decorative and do not allow practising sport of any kind. And this is just for playing a common sport like cricket or badminton. The government offers no solution for those who want to venture into tennis or volleyball, namely spots that require a court or some specialized equipment. For the swimmers, there are a few public pools but these are either not maintained or can be counted on one hand. Such facilities are provided by private clubs which are far too expensive and exclusive.
It is not enough for the government to build beautifully manicured lawns and gardens- they must concentrate on building sports complexes that are accessible to all and sundry. With the lack of space in major cities, this might prove to be difficult but it isn’t impossible. The city officials must not succumb to greed and allot more public land to private developers; they must develop the land and not let it remain unused. As a lot of sports talent comes from rural India, the sports ministry needs to allot funds to equip the villages with tools to harness this talent. Where private developers are concerned, they must ensure that the plans of their upcoming projects have a clause for converting the almost useless lawns into spaces that can actually be used for physical activity.
With technology spreading its tentacles and tempting youngsters to stay at home to play the latest video game or surf the internet, outdoor activities might be put on the back burner, which would prove to be extremely unhealthy for the children. A recent study has shown that lack of playgrounds and junk food are equally harmful for kids. It is important that outdoor activities catch up to technology or new talent in sports may never be found.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/webethere/2154435860/]