No artificial turf in Siri Fort Sports Complex, natural grass not be destroyed: Delhi HC

Observing that green area in the midst of a thickly populated residential place is of far greater value than a forest kilometres away from a human habitation, the Delhi High Court has directed the authorities to not destroy the natural grass in Siri Fort Sports Complex (SFSC) and covert it into artificial turf.

Justice Najmi Waziri said the proposed introduction of artificial turf by the Delhi Development Authority on the fields of the sporting complex was not only contrary to the judicial orders but also “impermissible and illegal”.

“Such conversion of laying of artificial turf will have to be abandoned by the DDA. The direction of the Supreme Court and of the National Green Tribunal to DDA (to not cut the large number of trees in and around the SFSC) and to ‘ensure that the entire complex is duly maintained’ is of much significance and was for the purpose of protecting the greenery in the entire area,” said the court in a recent order.

“The DDA shall maintain the status quo passed in this petition on 04.02.2020. The said order is made absolute. The football and hockey fields which presently have natural grass shall not be destroyed or altered to artificial turf,” ordered the court.

The court said environment belongs to all humans and living creatures and while each living being needs to be protected from damaged ecology, there is also a shared duty and responsibility on each individual to protect the environment from harm.

The court’s order was passed on a petition by Sudhir Gupta, a senior citizen of over 75 years of age, against the laying of artificial turf at SFSC by the DDA.

The DDA, which manages the sports centre and is the land owning agency, had floated a tender for conversion of football and hockey grounds, which have manicured natural grass, into a synthetic or artificial turf.

The petitioner, a permanent member of the SFSC and resident of the adjacent Asiad Village, argued the synthetic turf would be environmentally degrading, rob the sports centre of natural earth and harm the players and people in its vicinity.

He submitted large quantity of water is required just to keep the artificial turf soft, playable and cool in the heat and even internationally, there is a shift from artificial turf to natural grass for playing football and hockey.

The court, in its order, observed that in a city like Delhi, the ecology of small pockets of green areas, which serve as its lungs, is crucial and fragile and therefore greater caution and sensitivity has to be exercised.

It stressed that the land-owning agencies hold land in trust for future generations and “creeping concretisation, through seemingly innocuous projects, need to be examined from the prism of ecological balance”.

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“There can hardly be a case for this city being robbed of its green spaces in a few years only because in one project or the other, there is resultant concretisation of the earth. Today it is two sports fields, tomorrow it would be something else,” it said.

“The laying of artificial turf will be an irreversible damage to not only the football and hockey fields but to the contiguous green area and is likely to affect the people using the immediately adjacent walking path,” the court said.

It said it is the duty of public authorities like DDA to ensure that natural environment is maintained, safeguarded and improved. The DDA, the court said, may consider laying the artificial turf at another place which does not have the legal protection granted by the NGT and the Supreme Court while ensuring no harm is caused to the local ecology.

“SFSC lies in the heart of South Delhi and the adjoining greenery needs to be protected at all cost, as the entire area is a green lung for the city. A park or a green area in the midst of a thickly populated residential area or commercial area is of a far greater value than a forest removed kilometres away from a human habitation,” the court asserted.

“The environment is much larger than a simple football or hockey field…Development is not always the creation of roads, buildings, civic or industrial infrastructure, etc. In a world of technology, travel and tearing hurry, development is also manifested in the retention of delicate ecology and green area of a neighbourhood, so as to maintain the environmental equilibrium for posterity,” the court said.

It also noted that recently FIFA-related football World Cup events were held on natural grass and the renowned Salt Lake Stadium at Kolkata, which earlier had an artificial turf, has replaced it with natural grass field at the cost exceeding many scores of crores of rupees. 

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