A judge in India’s capital Delhi has revoked the permission to replace manicured sports surfaces with synthetic turf, as “There can hardly be a case for this city being robbed of its green.”
The court had been approached by a senior citizen who opposed the idea of having a natural turf football as well as natural turf hockey surface at the Siri Fort Sports Complex (SFSC) being replaced by synthetic turf.
He argued that the synthetic turf would be environmentally degrading, rob the sports centre of natural earth and harm the players and people in its vicinity. Furthermore, he pointed to the large quantity of water that is required to just keep the synthetic turf soft, playable and cool in the heat, something that is no longer necessarily the case.
The petitioner also claimed that, internationally, there is a shift from synthetic turf to natural grass for playing football and hockey. This flies in the face of what both the International Hockey Federation (FIH) and FIFA are pursuing. However, with FIFA-related football World Cup events always being played on natural turf and the replacement of the synthetic turf at the Salt Lake Stadium at Kolkata by a natural turf surface, the court accepted the argument.
Order is now absolute
Nevertheless, Justice Najmi Waziri of the Delhi High Court fell for it indefinitely and has now made a court order issued in April 2020, absolute.
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, he has directed the authorities to not destroy the natural grass and convert it into artificial turf.
“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 Delhi Development Agency (to not cut the large number of trees) 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,” the court said in a recent order.
The environment belongs to all
The court said the 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.
In its order, the court 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, needs to be examined from the prism of ecological balance.”
“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.
Consider other places
The court said it is the duty of public authorities like the Delhi Development Agency (DDA) to ensure that the natural environment is maintained, safeguarded and improved. The DDA, the court said, may consider laying 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.