Delhi HC scraps DDA’s plan to convert natural playgrounds into artificial turfs

By Richa Banka | 4th July 2023 | Hindustan Times | Click here to view article

The court said that DDA’s proposed plan would result in the destruction of a significant part of the open and naturally green area of the complex.

Stressing the need to protect the environment, the Delhi high court has scrapped the Delhi Development Authority (DDA)’s project to convert natural grass football and hockey grounds at Siri Fort Sports Complex (SFSC) into artificial synthetic grounds.

“The proposed plan is impermissible and illegal. Therefore, such conversion of laying of artificial turf will have to be abandoned by the DDA… 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,” justice Najmi Waziri said.

Making its February 4, 2020 order of status quo on the laying of artificial grass as “absolute”, the court said that the football and hockey fields which presently have natural grass shall not be destroyed or altered to artificial turf.

The court said that DDA’s proposed plan would result in the destruction of a significant part of the open and naturally green area of the complex.

He said that while land may belong to individuals and land-owning agencies, the environment belongs to all humans, indeed to all living creatures and each living being needs to be protected from damaged ecology.

“The environment is much larger than a simple football or hockey field. In a city like Delhi, the ecology of small pockets of green areas, serving as lungs for the city especially amidst densely populated residential, commercial and industrial localities is crucial and fragile. Therefore, greater caution and sensitivity has to be exercised, lest an inexorable harm is set in motion which may continue to blight the city for generations to come,” the court said in a judgment of June 30 made available on Monday.

The judge said that development is not always the creation of roads, buildings, civic or industrial infrastructure and in the 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.

Land-owning agencies hold land in trust for future generations, they need to exercise such care and caution. 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 will be something else. The creeping concretisation, through seemingly innocuous projects, need to be examined from the prism of ecological balance,” the court said.

The court was dealing with a petition by a member of SFSC, Sudhir Gupta seeking to stop converting the natural grass football and hockey grounds in Siri Fort Sports Complex into artificial synthetic grounds by cutting the trees/bushes/shrubs, etc. and in the process damaging/destroying the biggest green patch also known as lungs of south Delhi.

The plea had said that without consulting the members, users and players of the complex, DDA has initiated the work of construction for artificial synthetic football and hockey grounds by destroying/damaging the greenest part of the entire complex which will involve in the process uprooting or cutting innumerable well grown trees all around the natural mud jogging track.

Senior advocate ML Lahoty for the petitioner had contended that besides the degradation of the soil and environment, a lot of good quality water would be wasted on a daily basis to cool the heat which is generated from the artificial turf, both on regular days and especially so on hot days and to keep the artificial turf soft and moist and playable.

He further said it is contrary to the international trend, including decisions of FIFA and FIH to shift from artificial turf to natural grass for playing football and hockey.

He had argued that synthetic tracks are popular mostly in European countries and in the USA where the climatic conditions are altogether different from India.

Contending that there is a trend of synthetic tracks, the DDA counsel had said that there are many organisations in various parts of the country where artificial turf has been laid and FIFA as an organisation proposes artificial turf worldwide.

He said that the artificial turf proposed to be laid would be of approved FIFA standards; that there are many advantages of the use of artificial turf over the natural turf which includes conservation of water, elimination of harmful pesticides, reduction of noxious emissions thus being environment friendly, ideal for inclement weather, lower risk of injuries to players due to evenness of surface and cost effectiveness; that the artificial turf to be installed at SFSC is meant for training purposes and not for holding any international competition, the turf is to be used throughout the year; the proposal to lay the artificial turf is for the benefit of sportspersons.

Agreeing with the contentions of advocate Lahoty, counsel for the petitioner, the court said that in the recent past three FIFA related football World-Cup events were held on natural grass and even the FIFA World Cup in 2022 at Qatar was played on turf grass (natural grass), no artificial turf was used at any of the eight stadiums or even at the training grounds.

Citing several international patterns, the court said that the temperature at Qatar and Delhi are similar during summer, and it is in keeping the suitability of turf grass, for football to be played in a high and humid environment and that the World Cup was played on natural grass.

The court said that “irrespective of ownership of the land, DDA will need to protect the green areas especially in a city where the ever burgeoning population and the concomitant increase in number of vehicles and dwelling units, adds to the environmental pressure and pollution”.

SFSC lies in the heart of South Delhi and the adjoining greenery needs to be protected at all costs, 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,” it said.

The judge noted that the direction of the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal (NGT) to DDA 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.