The ongoing campaign to save the children’s playground in Koramangala 3rd block, Bengaluru as reported in Deccan Chronicle (Jan. 8, 2016) requires to be supported. Fond memories come flooding back when I think of this playground where like many others, I spent innumerable hours playing cricket and football. Like all playgrounds, this was a place where we as children, could scream, laugh, be silly, learn sports and sometimes, be a sport. For me, personally, in those days, running away to the playground meant a break from studies. In hindsight, I believe that I have learnt as much in the playground as I have during formal academic courses in schools and universities.
The playground is situated within the green and vibrant residential community of Koramangala 3rd Block, and till date, is a place which offers recreation, for children and grown-ups alike. I remember that, as kids, we were immensely proud and felt privileged to have a playground of this size so close by, where children from all parts of Bengaluru, like Jayanagar, Malleswaram and Fraser Town used to come and play. I also recall that residents of Koramangala used to organise civic and social improvement movements from the peripheries of this playground. It was our local ‘Hyde Park’!
Adjoining this playground is a park totally maintained by the residents and which incidentally, has been voted the best park in Bengaluru for the last 2 years in a row.
It has been a while since I moved out of Bengaluru, but during my frequent visits to this city to meet my parents, I can’t help but admire the efforts of the residents who, along with the help of local governing bodies, have maintained the playground and kept it well-equipped. After all, how many playgrounds in this country can boast of walking tracks, flood-lit basketball and volleyball courts, stadium-like seating arrangements for the benefit of the spectators of football and cricket matches. This must be one of the very few playgrounds in our country which can boast of having served as the practice ground for international athletes and Arjuna awardees like Reeth Devaiah and Sunil Abraham.
However, sadly, I now learn that this illustrious playground is going to be lost forever to politically influential persons. The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) has allotted a significant portion of this playground to M/s Ananda Social and Educational Trust, a privately owned trust managed by the family of the former home minister of Karnataka and a senior parliamentary leader. This private Trust intends to set up a school within the playground and from photographs put up on the internet, it appears to have already encroached over 1/3rd of the area of the playground. Once the school comes into being, it is only natural that the children of the school would monopolise the playground and the children of the locality for whom it was actually conceived and designed, would end up losing all rights to the remaining part of the playground. The internet photographs show that the playground has to a large extent become a death trap with 8 feet trenches been dug in the playground for piling and foundation laying.
One can only wonder in despair as to what was the necessity of the BDA to change the usage of this civic amenity site from that of a playground to a school. It is a poor testimony to civic planning that the only playground and purely recreational facility of this type in Bengaluru is being sacrificed to set up a school, especially when there are multiple schools in the locality. With schools in such close vicinity, there seems to be no logic in setting up another school in the midst of a purely residential area causing a lot of disturbance and unrest to its residents, who in any case are cramped for space since the roads around this playground are barely 11 feet wide. One wonders, whether the 11 feet roads can take the load of school buses, the cars of residents and the footfall of children to be admitted in the proposed school? When the civic planning has not conceived of operation of schools on such narrow roads, one can only worry of what chaos is in store for residents.
One can only guess uncharitably as to the reasons why the classification of land use for this civic amenity site was changed from that of ‘playground’ (as depicted under the Revised Master Plan 2015) and allotted for private development of a school. In 1991, the Supreme Court in Bangalore Medical Trust Vs B.S. Muddappa case had struck down the modification of the master plan when open space reserved for ‘public park’ by the BDA was thereafter allotted in favour of the Medical Trust for the purpose of constructing a hospital. The Court while holding the resolution of the BDA as null and void, stated that “Public park as a place reserved for beauty and recreation is associated with growth of the concept of equality and recognition of importance of common man. It is a ‘gift from people to themselves’. Its importance has multiplied with emphasis on environment and pollution. In modern planning and development it occupies an important place in social ecology... Absence of open space and public park, in present day
when urbanisation is on increase, rural exodus is on large scale and congested areas are coming up rapidly, may give rise to health hazard...”
This playground in Koramangala was, for more than four decades, earmarked as an exclusive playground site, meant for recreation of children and adults. It is also of symbolic importance to maintain this playground, especially when other playgrounds in Bengaluru like this have been systematically destroyed, encroached or taken over by vested interests, political or otherwise. Studies in America have shown that in neighborhoods without a usable park or playground, the incidence of childhood obesity increases by 29 percent. Additionally, reduction of the playground and effacing of open spaces would further encroach on the limited lung space in Bengaluru and thereby further putting the health of residents at risk. Who will be responsible for the sedentary lives of our children who are in any case being increasingly drawn towards video and computer games?
In the words of Eric Hoffer, the American moral and social philosopher, author of ten books and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom “the playground is the optimal milieu for the unfolding of a child’s capacities and talents.” This playground, for me and many others, has not only been the space for recreation, but also a place where we learnt built friendships to last a lifetime. Where would children go to play games now, if the only full-fledged playground in their locality is usurped by a profit making venture? Isn’t this becoming a trend and are we all going to be silent spectators to our children being deprived of their playgrounds?
Play and sports are now being treated as a luxury that kids, as well as adults, can do without. But it is high time that we recognise and defend the importance of play and playgrounds, if we and our generations to come are to lead a happy and healthy life. For children especially, sports is not a luxury, it is a necessity. From my personal experience, I have seen sports build in children, the values of endurance, self-confidence, self-reliance, discipline, justice, fair play and patriotism. To quote the words of James L Hymes Jr., “Play builds the kind of free and easy, try-it- out, do-it-yourself character that our future needs”. What future would our country have if playgrounds are being systematically destroyed and given to the most politically influential person of the region? What a huge social cost it would be for the country to have unfit citizens? What about the tremendous pressure it would put on our already overburdened health infrastructure?
We often worry about what the future holds for our children but yet, we forget that today, he or she is a child who needs an outlet to exercise, loosen his limbs and let out steam. Let us spare a thought for the future generations who have a right to the freedom and opportunity to play games in playgrounds like I did when I was growing up! And let us do something about it today, failing which these lapses cannot be corrected and the playground irretrievably lost.
(The writer is a well-known advocate practising in New Delhi)...