We badly need open spaces

I often hear many people talk about the need to develop local parks in the valley instead of constructing unplanned community halls. The government must realise that most people in the capital city do not have access to parks and open spaces.

With MAHUD minister Thounaojam Shyamkumar showing keen interest in developing Imphal into a neat and clean city, he must be discussing ways to make the place beautiful and eco-friendly with experts. Soon after he took charge as the MAHUD minister, Shyamkumar stressed the need to keep the capital city clean. I do not know if they have included development of parks in Imphal in their plan of action.

I have voiced the need to develop parks in all the localities instead of constructing community halls. Once upon a time each locality in the capital city had green spaces where children could play, cattle could graze and community events like Thabal Chongba, Shumang Leela could be performed. These green spaces gradually disappeared and no one showed concern.
Experts say parks can improve the environmental conditions of an area. They offer free environmental services. They can serve as walking, resting and meeting places. Natural landscapes are vital to preserving regional ecosystem and growing cities.

The present generation does not believe me when I tell them that there were children parks in many localities in Imphal in the 1960s and 1970s and that as a young girl I spent countless hours in the park playing with the neighbourhood children. The small park which was hardly hundred meters from my house had a pair of swings, a see-saw and a slide and two park benches. We sat on the benches as we eagerly waited for our turn on the swings or the see-saw. I still can feel the thrill of sliding headlong.

As nobody bothered to pay attention to their maintenance, the see-saw disappeared first, the swings, the slide followed suit and the park became an open ground. But the two benches stood there reminding me of the park where I spent many happy moments with my friends. The park soon became a convenient parking lot whenever there was a function in the neighbourhood and the ground became smaller and smaller. Fortunately for the children living in the neighbourhood, the park has been redeveloped in 2013 and new facilities were introduced attracting children from other localities as well.

When every little space available in any locality is being converted into community halls, there is no Leikai without a community hall or two with the MPs, local MLAs and several “social workers” willingly contributing handsomely to their construction. There is no open ground left for young children to play in most parts of Imphal. Many will, however, argue that they are being constructed to meet the needs of the people. Why can the leaders and the people for that matter, not think beyond community halls?

I often remember the lovely times we used to have back in our school days playing in open green grounds with siblings and children of the neighbourhood in the morning as well as in the afternoon. Even the local schools I went had green grounds where all the students could play before classes began and during break. We played kabaddi, hop-scotch, Khullokpi (a game like the knucklebones) and skipped. I believe everyone of us enjoyed the break and the outdoor games. Not so long ago every Leikai had two or more grounds where Thabal Chongba and Shumang Leela were held during Yaoshang and other festivals.

The last decade witnessed the growth of many well planned and beautifully designed gardens and children parks in different districts of Manipur, thanks to the imagination, hard work and dedication of a few enterprising individuals who dared to have dreams and strive to realise them against all odds. Little wonder they caught the attention of both young and old and soon became very popular. Who does not want to see the beauty of nature and appreciate it? Manipur now has a number of beautiful gardens which grow variety of roses and other flowers which are brought from other states and countries. You see them in almost all the Manipuri films, the hero and heroine singing and dancing in the midst of colourful and beautiful flowers.

We had one children park in the heart of Imphal, the Indira Park, frequented by small boys and girls from different parts of the state. I have nostalgic memories of this park too where both my daughters spent many joyful moments playing with their friends on Sundays and holidays. One often hears about the Manipur government’s plan to develop defunct schools in Imphal area into markets and shopping complexes. I have nothing against the plan to build markets or malls but I am not happy about the choice of sites and the failure of our government to understand the other needs of the people.

Let us think about converting some areas into green parks where the elderly as well as the young can spend time in the morning and evening. Can’t every single neighbourhood in the capital town have a small park? The parks will not cost the government much. Plant some trees and flowers and let the residents take care of them. I have seen residents plant beautiful trees along the by-lanes in many localities and look after them. We can at least let our children have the joy of playing in an open ground.

There are many areas in Imphal which can be developed into public parks. Being the capital of Manipur, the town needs proper planning. The government must stop the haphazard construction of community halls before the whole Imphal is being transformed into a city of community halls. The ad-hoc approach of the government in the implementation of any development project has caused enough damage to it and inconveniences to the residents.

Why can’t the residents of Imphal take the collective responsibility to develop a park in their localities by selecting the grounds which have been lying unused for so many years? The Imphal municipal corporation can play a vital role in the selection of the grounds. The corporators can identify the areas in their respective wards and develop them into beautiful parks.

I don’t think each and every Leikai needs community halls. Identify those which need them. Let the urban planners take the decision? I would love to hear our ministers and MLAs talk about the urgent need to make Imphal green and make efforts to develop it into a nicer and safer place to live. Imagine green public parks in different neighbourhoods of Imphal where kids play while elders relax.

-Ningthoukhongjam Sabita

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