Joggers Park in Bandra in Mumbai is an iconic site and even a Hindi film with the same name has been made with the Park as the location.

Sensible people always support the public sector. But in this case it is found that the municipal corporation has created a big mess of it after taking it over from private builders who set up the park thirty years ago.

Formerly when builders ran the park, they spent money judiciously, now the municipal corporation is splurging money, seems such a waste of precious resources which need to be spent on the poor on a priority basis. This project is especially ill advised because civic and state government do not have adequate funds.

All that the park needed was some expenditure on maintenance. It was a perfectly good park that is why it has become so famous. Plus it has a great location by the seaside, it does not require fancy embellishments.

The whole park has been dug up, heavy machinery, JCB type equipment was dumped on the greenery for months, grass has been uprooted and is now being replanted after bringing soil from a long distance at great expense. In the process such development robs the countryside of its natural soil.

The needless renovation also poses hazards. One needs to strike a note of caution since the safety of children is involved. The play area for children in the renovated park looks very colourful. The trouble is when you know that litres of very poisonous chemicals lurk beneath the the artificial surface one needs to be careful. One is not blaming those involved, many people do believe such surfaces are safe.

But already cement, steel and concrete has been poured into the once very eco friendly park and now we have chemicals and rubber and plastic being added. And all this at great expense, in a budget of some Rs. nine crore or so. The park was in a good condition, all that it needed were some minor repairs. Incongruous statues have been installed reducing green space.

All indications are that the park will also look quite green and posh. . But it was already green enough. The worst part is that the natural earthen surface in the children’s area has been covered with heavy cement work which would make it very unsfe for children using equipment from a height. So to soften the blow, this artificial material has been added.

Artificial turf use is widely prevalent in many countries but it is also extremely controversial and environment unfriendly. There is plenty of evidence on this. This is not a matter of prejudice.

Besides such surfaces also become very hot and are very unsuitable for Indian climate, plus they do not absorb water. So they contribute to global warming and flooding.It is also against the municipal policy that we need to keep natural earthen surface as far as possible to absorb water and prevent flooding.

Formerly, children played on a wholly naturally earthen surface using various devices including slides and swings. Proximity to mother earth, trees, plants gives immunity to children. Now, this access is vastly reduced and the artificial surface is sterile and uninspiring. It may look colourful and attractive but this would be entirely misleading.

So how can you protect your child at the playground? Remember that children are much more likely to be harmed by exposure to chemicals in their environment than adults because they are smaller (so the exposure is greater) and because their bodies are still developing. This is why it’s important to significantly reduce (or try to eliminate) any contact your child may have with substances that are known or suspected to be harmful. If you have more than one playground in your area, choose the one that doesn’t have a recycled rubber play surface or other types of rubber or synthetic surface. This is from researchers Nyedra W. Booker PharmD MPH and Stephanie Fox-Rawlings PhD, National Center for Health Research.

A British expert said. I don’t think that for all but specialised purposes that artificial turf really compares with [real] grass. Not only does it not provide any of the environmental benefits of grass – like soaking up moisture, home for insects, feeding birds, self-sustaining – its life isn’t that long. It gets trampled on and quite soon looks poor. It can’t be relaid or reseeded; it has to be rolled up, lifted and sent to landfill. There are also growing concerns about the impact of the synthetic chemicals that are added to artificial grass on human health and the environment. The EU has been investigating specialist artificial turf used on sports fields for suspected carcinogens, and is considering banning intentionally added microplastics.

The trouble is housing societies and others will now like to copy this Joggers Park example. Worse, other nice shady gardens are proposed to be taken over for this horrible kind of beautification. That is the more damaging part.

It appears that some sort of a racket is in operation in the widespread use of astroturf in several schools in Mumbai with big playgrounds. These schools are now turning these grounds into astroturf laden spaces for games for the rich. A purely commercial enterprise that robs school children of that precious space.

There is obviously a powerful lobby in operation that seems to manipulate at various levels so that artificial, environmentally damaging surface making companies get contracts.

In a country where public green spaces are scarce we need more gardens with a lot of trees and greenery, not fancy joggers parks for the luxury of the rich. The irony is that they arrive in their fancy cars and have this exclusive walking track for them at public expense. At the same time real people walk on the road in the most hazardous conditions. The authorities treat them with the utmost contempt.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport


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