Dr Nitin Turaskar, immediate past president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) Bhandara, is actively involved in different matters of public interest beside being a practising laparoscopic surgeon. Recently, he moved the Supreme Court after failing to get a favourable order in the British-era Munroe School playground case from the high court. An alumnus of Munroe, this is not the first time Dr Turaskar knocked the doors of the judiciary to save playgrounds. He is fighting for another playground right in front of his hospital in Bhandara. In an exclusive interview with TOI, he talks about how lifestyle diseases are increasing among kids because of vanishing playgrounds.
Q. What makes a doctor fight for a school playground?
A. I’m an alumnus of Munroe School. It’s a heritage structure built in 1885 as per the engraving on its roof tiles. As a petitioner, I had informed the high court about the prevalence of diabetes in teenagers and how India would soon become the diabetes capital of the world. This is mainly because of the shrinking spaces for physical activities for the young population. In 2007, a nice playground was developed at a cost of Rs 62 lakh by the state government in front of my hospital. It was reserved for girls, but the local body started renting it out for other purposes than sports. Besides being a surgeon, I’m also a radiologist. I have observed that every third girl has the polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD). This affects their menses, growth of facial hair and weight gain. They face problems after marriage and during conception too. We don’t see children playing these days. When you play, the body system allows absorption of glucose. Type II diabetes is now seen in kids due to lack of exercise. For that we need open spaces and sufficient sunlight. People remaining indoors for a long time become vulnerable to osteoporosis and osteopenia. Colleges or schools should have playgrounds and students must be allowed to play. Now, both Munroe and the girl’s playground cases are in the apex court.
Q. But isn’t the local body providing alternative land for Munroe?
A. People were struggling with the pandemic but strangely, 69 shops were sanctioned in the Munroe School premises. We led protests and eventually moved the HC. The schoolkids are now deprived of around 2 acres of playground. The respondents submitted before the court that students can play at Dassra Maidan which is 400 metres from the school. Every other minute a truck passes, risking the safety of schoolkids. Moreover, Dassra Maidan is actually a zudpi jungle whereas kids need a proper playground to stay healthy and fit. The April 19, 2022, order states that Dassra Maidan has been given to the school and that the ZP has been allowed to go ahead with the commercial complex project.
Q. What is the impact of vanishing playgrounds from school premises?
A. In his book ‘Reversing Heart Disease’, Dr Dean Ornish has coined the term ‘exercise deficiency disorder’. Somewhere I read, ‘Health is not mainly an issue of doctors and hospitals. It’s an issue of social justice’. If you are healthy, you can enjoy the privileges of life. Diabetes among kids is just the tip of the iceberg. Vanishing playgrounds are increasing lifestyle diseases among kids. Like this, there are many aspects to our health. In India, every 12th individual is a diabetic. These figures have been published by the Union ministry of health and family welfare. This is a great health care concern. The economic burden of only diabetes, given the population of our country, is enormous. The economic burden of treating the complications of diabetes may be beyond imagination. If we consider a small district like Bhandara which has a poputation of 12.5 lakh then as per the MOHFW data, approximately one lakh persons in the district are said to be diabetic. If we consider that each person is spending approximately Rs 2,000 per month on antidiabetic and related medications then Rs 1,00,000xRs2,000=Rs 20 crore is being spent on a monthly basis in a small district like Bhandara. Annually, it’s Rs240 crore.
Q. You mean schools must offer something more than teaching?
A. It’s time to awaken. The Britishers who built such a beautiful monument like the Munroe School in Bhandara were visionaries. They realized that daylight should reach every classroom so that the schoolkids should have healthy bones and teeth. It’s really a pity and matter of concern that in the name of pseudo development we are destroying not only open spaces or playgrounds of schools, but we are also devaluing such a heritage structure. We are selling properties earned by our forefathers at the cost of health. This should be stopped immediately in the overall interest of school kids. Generally, sportspersons are spotted and nurtured in school premises. The athletic potential of kids is observed by teachers in school. Future footballers or cricketers come through the Subroto football tournament or CK Naidu Trophy cricket for which the journey begins at the school level.