The Uttarakhand High Court took suo moto cognizance after noting a video of Virat Kohli's that went viral wherein a child expressed concern about the scarcity of playgrounds to the cricketer.

The Court directed the Union and State Governments to submit their responses regarding the shortage of playgrounds for children and young adults. The Court emphasized that children and young adults are being denied their fundamental right to enjoy their childhood and grow up in the most healthy way.

The result of the aforesaid phenomenon - which is highly prevalent in our society, and we can take judicial notice of the same, since at some stage, we as children have also encountered such situations, is that our children and youth are denied a very vital and fundamental right which they have, to enjoy their childhood, and grow in the most healthy way,” the Bench headed by Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and comprising Justice Rakesh Thapliyal observed.

Additional Chief Standing Counsel Rajeev Singh Bisht with Standing Counsel Gajendra Tripathi appeared for the State, and Standing Counsel Lalit Sharma appeared for the Union.

The Court decided to address the issue raised in the video in the public interest. The Court aimed to understand the contemporary policies and any future policies that the State may formulate to ensure that children can play in lawns, playgrounds, and open areas in their neighborhoods without being deprived of their rights. The Court, therefore, took sou moto cognizance of the matter.

The Court emphasized the positive impact of outdoor physical sports on children's physical and mental well-being. However, it observed that open spaces are often turned into decorative parks with trees planted everywhere, leaving very little room for sports activities. The Court noted that the fear of damaging properties prevents children from playing freely in open parks within their localities and colonies, especially when playing games like cricket or football. The elders are also uneasy in such areas, with or without infants, fearing that they or the infants may be hit by the ball with which the children play.

It is a hard reality, that it is the elders in our localities and colonies, who call the shots, and takes decisions - as to how the open space and area are managed”, the Bench noted.

The Court noted that it is crucial for children and young people to enjoy their childhood and develop in a healthy way. Access to a good environment where they can participate in sports is essential as it significantly contributes to their physical and mental growth. Additionally, the Court emphasized that sports help children learn social skills that will benefit them in their future lives. However, when children are denied the opportunity to play outdoor sports in their own neighborhoods, they may become addicted to screens and spend their time watching TV, playing on the computer, using tablets, and using mobile phones, the Bench noted.

The Court observed that the Central Government had initiated the "Khelo India" policy to promote sports in the country. However, simply opening stadiums and playgrounds to the general public may not sufficiently address the concerns raised in the video footage. The Court emphasized that many families may need more means or time to transport their children to and from such facilities daily, hindering their ability to engage in outdoor sports. Therefore, the Court asserted that it is vital for children to have the freedom to play the sports they desire within their neighborhoods, under the watchful eye of their parents and caregivers, from the comfort of their own homes.

The Bench noted, “We wonder, whether the State has formulated any policy to address the issues taken note of hereinabove. If not, we are of the view that the State shall definitely look at the issues which arise from the video graph in question, and which we have taken note of hereinabove… The respondents authorities are obliged to protect the rights and interests of children and youth – to play outdoor sports in their colonies, localities and surroundings, while also dealing with concerns of the grown ups, which we have noticed hereinabove”.

The Bench ascertained if the State has established a policy to address the abovementioned issues. If not, the Court recommended that the State to address the concerns regarding the video being discussed. The authorities must protect the rights and interests of children and youth to play outdoor sports in their neighborhoods while also taking into account the concerns of adults, the Court asserted.

The Court noted that in order to satisfy the needs of all age groups and sections, particularly elders who may find young children playing outside disruptive, the State may choose to install seven nets or fencing around the playing area's exterior or provide other necessary facilities to avoid any inconvenience when children engage in outdoor sports activities. Additionally, the State should reconsider its strategy of developing or allowing the creation of parks and lawns in colonies and public areas at the expense of denying open spaces and playgrounds for children and youth to engage in outdoor sporting activities.

Therefore, the Court directed the Union of India and the State to file their responses on the raised issues within two weeks.

Accordingly, the Court listed the matter for October 9.

Cause Title: Suo Moto PIL: In The Matter Of “Let The Children Play” By Increasing The Facilities of Sports v Principal Secretary, Department of Women Empowerment & Child Development And Others

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