The Indian schoolgirl asking PM Modi to save her park

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

image captionThe park is Navya Singh's "favourite place"

A seven-year-old Indian schoolgirl has filed a petition in court and written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a bid to save her neighbourhood park.

Navya Singh wrote, " I think you'll listen to me. This park is our lifeline," in her open letter.

She is seeking his help to put a stop to local authorities building a community hall in her local park.

After hearing of the petition last week Delhi High Court judges ordered a halt to building work at the park.

Just a few minutes' walk from her home in the crowded Rohini area in west Delhi, Navya says the park is her "favourite place" where she's been going since she was "a baby" and she still visits it "every morning and evening".

"I meet my friends there and play with them. We get on the swing, we play hide and seek," she told the BBC. "I like the park a lot because it's got lots of trees."

In her two-page letter to the prime minister, she writes: "Everyone says you will not read it because you receive 1,000 such letters. But I think you'll listen to me. This park is our lifeline."

She concludes with a plea to "Modi uncle" to help her "save her park" because "everyone says you're very intelligent".

Last week, Navya also filed a petition in the Delhi High Court, through her lawyer father Dheeraj Kumar Singh, against the Delhi Development Authority's (DDA) project as it would "deprive the residents" of a place "to play and to get some fresh air".

In June, the residents of the area were surprised when the DDA cordoned off nearly one-third of the park and began construction activities.

"That's the first time we had an inkling that there was something going on in the park," Mr Singh told the BBC, adding that officials never consulted or informed the residents about their plans.

Delhi has more than 14,000 public parks and open spaces - some are managed by the civic authorities, some by the city government, and others by the DDA.

Although many of them are poorly maintained, in densely populated city areas, they are popular hangout zones where children play, adults get some exercise and the elderly socialise.

image captionThe authorities cordoned off a part of the park in June for construction work

So it is not surprising that unhappy residents, including a large number of women, protested in front of the park to prevent the authorities from going ahead with the construction. The DDA called the police and took over possession of the area.

From 26 June, Navya and other residents had no access to the park - it was barricaded, heavy machinery was brought in and huge iron pillars were installed.

"She was very restless. She asked me, 'Where will we play now? Who can help us'?" Mr Singh said. "Since I'm a lawyer, the only place I could think of was the court."

A large part of the park, the residents say, has already been encroached upon - a temple in the middle of it has expanded over the years, a mobile phone tower came up in 2015 and earlier this year an open-air gym was installed in one corner.

As a result, the space for children to play has been constantly shrinking.

image captionNavya is a second grade student
image captionAn open-air gym has come up in the park in the last few months

Navya's petition says the project is "a waste of public money" as a community hall already exists "just 50 metres" from the site of the proposed new one.

At the first hearing of Navya's petition last week, acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar ordered the DDA to "immediately stop" building work at the park.

"DDA cannot convert a park into a construction (site). You are playing with taxpayers' money... Parks are parks. Do not turn them into community centres," the judges said.

The court asked the DDA to respond to the petition by the next date of hearing which is set for 18 September. A DDA official told the BBC that their legal department was drafting a response and that they would abide by the court order.

Navya doesn't understand the legalities involved in her petition, but since the court order, she and her friends have been able to return to the park, although a "smaller and more crowded" one.

With help from the court, and the prime minister, she hopes she will be able to reclaim it all.