Corporation is yet to find land in newly-included areas to develop playgrounds

After every shot, thirteen-year-old Saikamalesh looks around anxiously to see if a policeman is watching him. Following complaints from residents in his Palavakkam neighbourhood, the police have started to crack down on teams that play cricket on the roads. The absence of Corporation-maintained playgrounds in the extended limits of the civic body has forced children like him to play on roads.

“When a police patrol appears suddenly, some of us start running away but we lose our bat and ball most of the time,” said Saikamalesh, adding: “Older team members are also scared to request the police to return the bat. The policemen might beat them if they ask.”

A police official said that they were taking action against the youngsters on account of the disruption caused to traffic. “They play on the main roads connecting residential localities. So we have to take action and prevent them from bothering residents,” a policeman said.

Hundreds of boys like Saikamalesh in various parts of the expanded Corporation limits are forced to either walk or cycle long distances to areas like Pallikaranai where there are large tracts of forest land. “We cycle a distance of over 7 km to play cricket in vacant lands in Pallikaranai,” said E. Vinoth, another student in the team.

Councillors' help sought

Some choose to take a risk and play on the roads. K. Karthik said, “We have asked our councillor to help us find a playground to play without any fear. We want a nice playground to play cricket or volleyball during the holidays.”

Some of the 200 Chennai Corporation councillors have assured the youth in their locality that they will create better playgrounds for them. But most of the assurances are not likely to materialise, as much depends on how successful the Corporation is in getting land currently owned by other government agencies. However, children in such localities are hoping to have a playground in future.

One assurance by a Chennai Corporation councillor includes the creation of temporary cricket pitches on a large piece of land belonging to the University of Madras in Palavakkam, as the Chennai Corporation does not own land that is large enough to accommodate a large number of youth during summer. The civic body maintains only three playgrounds in the extended areas, while in the old city limits, it had 246 playgrounds. This, when total area of the newly added localities (252 square km) is far more than that of the city's limits prior to expansion (174 square km).

Enlisting open spaces

While officials of the civic agency have begun the process of making a list of open spaces suitable for creating playgrounds in the newly added zones of Tiruvottiyur, Manali, Madhavaram, Ambattur, Valasaravakkam, Alandur, Perungudi and Sholinganallur, many of the identified places are rather small plots of lands that can, at best, be used for commissioning play equipment for tiny tots. The Chennai Corporation is yet to put in place a sound procedure to help it verify documents and retrieve its own land that have, for long, been with local bodies.

Also, these localities simply do not have large-enough plots of land. Newly appointed officials of the divisions in the added areas are unable to find out the reason for the lack of open spaces in the newly added areas. While wide-spread development on plots is clearly visible in areas, the fact that corresponding OSR lands, which ought to have been earmarked by the local bodies, should be missing remains a puzzle.

The Directorate of Town and Country Planning and the CMDA are likely to possess records that might help the Corporation find hints to the missing OSR lands in the extended areas. The records available with the DTCP and CMDA on the approved layouts in the past three decades in added areas could be used to find out how much land in these areas really belongs to the Chennai Corporation. These plots of land are likely to be large enough to create playgrounds for the hundreds of children in every newly carved out division, senior officials in the Corporation observed.

While the civic body announced that it will create parks in 100 localities in the newly-added areas, hardly a few identified open spaces for the purpose are suitable for the creation of large playgrounds.

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Aloysius Xavier LopezJune 28, 2012

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