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Keshav Khanna

IWB Blogger

7-Year-Old Navya And Her Father’s Park Petition Reignites Our Passion For Activism

  • IWB Post
  •  August 11, 2017

Every four years our nation of 1.3 billion people sit ardently in front of TV Screens. We wait and watch as athletes both female and male try their hardest and perform their best at the Summer Olympics. We are usually disappointed by the low tally.

When I was a little kid, we had a small discussion in class about why this is so. The 2004 Olympics had just rolled by, and India got just 1 silver medal. It shook the nation. I remember raising a point in my class which is true even today, “Ma’am we aren’t allowed to play anywhere. The guard of our neighbourhood park says you cannot play here, this park is only for walking. As children, we aren’t given enough spaces to play. So how can we blame our athletes, they never had fields to practice.

13 years later, this still rings true. Children are still deprived of their neighbourhood parks. By big government coming over and replacing parks with community centres or commercial construction. Making our condensed cities more saturated. Taking away the last places of respite its citizens have.

Luckily, there is a rising wave of citizen vigilantism and activism. A few days back, a 7-year-old girl, Navya, along with her father Dheeraj Kumar Singh, filed a petition with the Delhi High Court to stop the construction of a community centre at the location of their neighbourhood park. This activist duo prepared a comprehensive petition requesting the honourable High Court to step in.

The bench of the High Court that heard this case has questioned the DDA (Delhi Development Authority) and inquired about the need to put up an Open Gym in place of a Public Park. They have asked the DDA to file an affidavit and agreed to hear this case on the 18th of September, 2017.

Over the phone, Navya’s father, Dheeraj Kumar, explained to us how the park is an essential set of social interaction for the kids of his colony. And how poor planning and bad coordination might genuinely affect the citizens of tomorrow.

Tell us a bit about the importance of parks in your locality. How does life revolve around them?

Dheeraj: The Park is a very important part of the life of not just children, but also of the senior citizens and the residents who go for walks. The Park is a source of enjoyment and leisure. Our residence in Delhi is a densely-populated area. Without the park, life would just be harsher. If a park is converted into a community centre, we’re actually encouraging other evils like noise pollution, parking problems, etc. This is an issue related to the betterment of children.

On what ground do you believe construction of public spaces should be based on?

Dheeraj: Every layout of every colony is planned. The park was planned as was the community centre. I have gone through the master plan and seen this. In the master plan, they’ve decided how much land must be allocated to parks. The problem we, the people, have is the use of park land for the community centre when there is a land allocated to construct that separately.

It not only shows the lack of coordination and planning between government agencies but also a disregard for the citizens. Public Spaces must be based keeping in mind the basic comfort of the citizens. Especially younger kids and senior citizens, who utilize the park the most.

What is the current scenario of the Park like?

Dheeraj: This park had been bifurcated long back into two parks, one for private events and the other one for the use of the public. Which meant we only had about 50% of the space, to begin with. About a year back, DDA allotted a place for a mobile tower inside the park. So, they constructed a mobile tower in by removing swings for children. Which took another 10-15% of the space.

Besides this, there is a Mandir in the Park which was supposed to be relegated to the centre only. But the management of the Mandir has encroached upon Park territory and occupied about 30% of the area. So much so that the park is basically divided into half at the centre. The condition is not ideal right now.

In recent years, the DDA has converted almost all parks in this area into something or the other. They recently built two schools on the park land.

What was the idea behind filing the petition under your daughter’s name? How big of a role did she play in it?

Dheeraj: My daughter was very aggrieved when she saw the construction of the community centre over the park land. All of her friends were also sad. They came to me and asked me to do something. So, I had this idea. I did all the research, gathered all the data and filed the petition.

What are your daughter’s favourite activities on the playground?

Dheeraj: The park has so many things and activities she enjoys. Her favourite is the see-saw, which she loves. There’s also Taekwondo classes for small children that happen over there. But the most recent thing that happened is my Daughter planted some trees in the park in June. But then some DDA vehicle destroyed that area. So, she was very disheartened. She told me, “Papa, our teacher said don’t play on the road, play in parks, but the government is destroying the parks!”

How was your reaction when the DDA was asked to file an affidavit from the High Court Bench? How was your daughter’s?

Dheeraj: Oh, she is very happy! She’s really young, so she doesn’t exactly understand the entire process, like most people. Everyone feels that we’ve already won the case. But that is just not so. The Honourable High Court has simply put a stay on any further construction, but this is still just the first phase. We’ve received a lot of help from everyone. For instance, our local MLA has been instrumental in helping us. The HC has made the observation that if there is a provision for a separate land for the community centre, there is no need for its construction over park land.

How do you feel the local municipal authorities must be kept accountable for the taxpayer money they spend?

Dheeraj: It is the responsibility of the DDA to spend the taxpayers’ money judiciously. We’re not a rich country. As the local government, they must decide if what they’re doing is for the benefit of the people or not. None of the proper surveys required for the community centre was done. After digging out further, I came to know that there was some external political pressure for this project.

Is this the first time you and your daughter have pursued activism?

Dheeraj: For my daughter, yes. For me, no. I had filed a petition previously about Sanskriti School. However, I had vested interest in that, unlike this petition. Actually, Sanskriti school was this school established by the top bureaucrats of this country as an elite private school for their children. They were allotted 8 acres of land illegally, and the top bureaucrats arranged funds via loan. Now they couldn’t pay back the loan, so they dipped into Public Funds to do so.

Technically that should make it a government school, open for all. But they ran it as an elite school for bureaucrat children. Where 60% of the seats are reserved for them. I found out about this when I went to enroll my daughter in that school. Their selection process was absolutely biased. This matter reached the Supreme Court which removed the 60% reservation for top bureaucrats and instead opened it to all government employees.

What is your advice to other parents about the promotion of active involvement of kids in activism that pertains to them?

Dheeraj: I encourage parents to promote activism but with a disclaimer. They should only do so for issues that directly affect the children. In this case, the rights of my daughter and the children of this locality were being infringed. But involving them in issues that they don’t understand is not something I’d recommend. Only matters pertaining to them directly, like Parks, Schools, Homework, Reservation, etc.

We laud the effort of both Navya and Dheeraj Kumar for pursuing activism. Especially Dheeraj Kumar, who is teaching his daughter to be an active citizen in our vibrant democracy. We hope that the High Court sees their genuine problem and forbids the DDA from the construction of the park.

Parks are treasure troves of nature in the midst of our increasingly concrete cities. They are an absolutely essential part of our neighborhoods and localities. It is where kids grow up playing, adults exercise their bodies and senior citizens relive old memories. Parks are where I sat for hours reading books, living tales of Joseph Heller and the deep-sea blues of Ernest Hemingway. I cannot imagine my childhood and teenage without them.

Just as Navya did, we all must stand up for our rights. Ours is one of the few countries where you can claim your rights from the state. This must be exercised to the fullest. Citizens (and future citizens) like Dheeraj Kumar and little Navya are a blessing to our country. Think about it, their victory, in this case, would mean the victory of their entire neighborhood and community!

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