All park and no play !

Preferring parks over playgrounds, converting open spaces into green areas, the civic authorities are not paying attention to the crying need of lakh

All park and no play !

Bangalore’s nostalgic yearning to get back its “Garden City” tag has an ugly underbelly. Lost in the civic agencies’ rush to appease voices that cry out for more parks, are the City’s children, searching in vain for those disappearing playgrounds. Banished from playing on the streets, their cricket and football fields invaded by the Green armies, the young ones have nowhere to don the sportsman’s mask.

Tasked with the City’s development and maintenance, the Bruhat Bangalore
Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) are more keen to carve parks out of playgrounds, than upgrading the sporting fields. Result: The City, with a population of one crore, has barely 150 playgrounds in good condition. This compares poorly with the 900-odd parks and gardens spread across Bangalore.

Most of these playgrounds are located in the City’s core area, a good number in the Palike’s East, West and South zones. The newly added BBMP areas, that comprise vast swathes of revenue layouts and new apartment complexes, do have many places reserved for civic amenities. But most of them are not developed. Many are encroached or converted as parks.

The BDA no longer has any playground in the City’s core area under its jurisdiction, as admitted by a top official himself. The Authority is now concerned only about playground spaces in layouts of the newly added areas.

But why is this so? The official attributes this to the elected representatives. Corporators and MLAs, the official claims, emphasise on developing parks in the Civic Amenity (CA) sites. The reason appears obvious enough. “In developing playgrounds, the contractors don’t get the kind of money they receive for upgrading parks. More money to the contractors means more kickbacks to the elected  representatives,” explains the official on condition of anonymity.

Consider this: There are no proper playgrounds for children in Banashankari 6th Stage, Anjanapura Layout, Visvesvaraya Layout, and even in BDA-approved layouts such as Bharat Housing Cooperative Society and Jayanagara Housing Cooperative Society. The sports-starved children are forced to either play on the busy streets, some vacant sites, or simply stay at home hooked onto a videogame!

The official apathy to playgrounds is clearly visible. Take for instance, a three-acre plot in BHCS Layout that was originally reserved for a playground. It has now been converted into a dumping yard for debris. Repeated complaints by the residents to the BDA yielded no response. Today, thanks to all that debris strewn all around, it can no longer be a playground.

The Palike too faces a similar challenge. Most of the prominent playgrounds in core Bangalore are in danger of being encroached upon, like many others. For instance, a ground in JP Nagar 6th phase has been reduced to half its size, as two temples are being built right there.

Another playground in Nanjundeshwara HSG Society Layout near JP Nagar 5th Phase was grabbed by a builder to carve out a road for his residential project. Thanks to civil vigilantism, the local residents’ welfare association took up the case in the High Court and won the battle. But the matter has not ended there. The concerned officials are showing no respect to the Court order. The ground is neither
retrieved nor fenced.

In many old BBMP areas, the pathetic, discarded state of playgrounds has come in handy for Palike engineers. Since sports and other activities are no longer possible in these areas, the Palike converts them into parks and gardens. In Hanumanthanagar, for example, a small playground that was not maintained at all, was transformed into a park. The Palike went ahead despite the protest by the local residents.

The crying need for more playgrounds has become even more important, as there are an estimated 1,419 schools in the City without a playing area of their own. Many of these institutions depend on BBMP open spaces to conduct their physical training classes. Yet, they are neither fenced nor secured.

Former BBMP Engineer-in-Chief, B T Ramesh, agrees that a City as huge as
Bangalore does require much more than 150 playgrounds. “We do not want the overall development of our children. We have forgotten that for a healthy society, playgrounds are a must. Gardens and parks are meant only for the elderly people but playgrounds are the basic needs of the upcoming generation,” says Ramesh.
He suggests that the Palike administration pass a resolution to prevent conversion of playgrounds into parks and protect them from land sharks.

But the resolution should be on strict implementation of existing laws. The State government had come out with a law that requires civic bodies to spread information on all the parks in their jurisdiction area every year. The publicity should be through a gazzette, according to the

Karnataka Parks, Play-fields and Open Spaces (Prevention and Regulation Act), 1985. This Act also requires the local authority to invite objections and complaints from the public and take down illegal structures that comes up in the open spaces and parks.
Since 1985, the Palike reportedly did nothing as laid down by the legislation. Even after the new areas were added in 2007, the civic body had no record of the playgrounds. Three years later, in 2010, the Palike finally furnished some data to the government. But this has largely remained outside the public arena. It took a lot of public outcry to beat down a Palike proposal that year that threatened to affect even the existing grounds. The idea was to build underground parking lots beneath playgrounds in five locations. Eventually, BBMP had to backtrack.

In the newly added BBMP areas, playing areas are largely restricted to gated communities and marginal spaces within apartment complexes. Public open spaces are either usurped by land sharks or perennially occupied for private activities. Fortunately, grounds and sports clubs maintained by public sector undertakings are still open to the general public, the only saving grace. The HAL Sports Club, for instance, offers a range of facilities including cricket and foodball grounds, a swimming pool and a basketball court. Most of these are available for residents of the surrounding areas.

As per the law

* That the specified parks, playgrounds and open spaces are not used for any other purpose

* Are maintained in a clean and proper condition by the local authority

* Are free of construction of any building or structure that affects the utility

* Are free of any rubbish. Violations are punishable with imprisonment, fine or both

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