September 03 2014 was historical for state’s football lovers as it was on this day that J&K got its first exclusive football stadium with synthetic football turf imported from Italy. First of its kind in the state, the synthetic turf at TRC ground Srinagar is laid over six layers of base course. Exactly one year after the laying the foundation stone for the football academy at Ushkura in Baramulla district, then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah inaugurated the TRC Astroturf on September 03, 2014 and since then it has been almost four years.
While the purpose of behind both the projects was good, the execution on ground does not commensurate it. On one hand Ushkura Football Academy project has completely failed to take-off and on the other, TRC Astroturf is crying for maintenance!
Is this the fate of all state projects which have the sanction of the highest authority? And why has the essence of maintenance of AstroTurf been ignored?
From Financial point of view, every project DPR (Detailed Project Report) which forms the basis of project planning, provides for all cost heads including the Capital and O&M (Operation and Maintenance) Costs. In fact, long-term project sustainability requires long-term O&M planning, which is also incorporated into the project DPR. Thus, the approved cost of project includes all envisaged cost elements which have an impact on the life of the project. Generally, annual O&M costs are estimated at 2%-5% of the capital cost of the project, which are spread over its life.
Based on the above premise, it is implied that the TRC Astroturf project cost would have had adequate provision for the O&M costs albeit not reflecting on the field. Absence of essential maintenance equipment and comprehensive maintenance plan poses many questions. Has the project costing not been done scientifically?
Over the period after its installation, TRC Astroturf has paid rich dividends in terms of its utility. Not only has it hosted around 250 matches this season including Premier division league, Super division, Police Martyr’s tournament, Khelo Sehat Ke Liye (Play for Health) etc., it has also turned the valley into a round-the-year football place. At the beginning of year 2018, TRC Astroturf has had the privilege of hosting of I-league (2nd Division) matches. On top of it, TRC Astroturf has become the training ground for all top teams of the state including J&K Bank, J&K Police, JKSPDC, State Football Academy. And hosting football school for around 500 children twice a week, that’s icing on the cake!
Given the footballing footfall the playfield has to accommodate round the year, the pace and intensity deterioration of the playing surface is obvious. If you look at the TRC pitch today, it is two-shaded with a maze of silver patches embedded in green. These silver patches signify compaction i.e. the flattening of otherwise short-pile vertical fibres which give a green tinge to the ground. Moreover, the layer of rubber granule infill which besides allowing the blades of synthetic grass provides grip, slide comfort, stability and energy restoration are not uniformly spread on the pitch. Given the fact that Polo Ground again due to poor maintenance has lost its status of the best football ground in the valley, TRC hosts all football traffic round the year which has further amplified the pace of deterioration of the pitch.
Basically artificial turf is a surface of synthetic fibers made to look like natural grass. It is usually constructed of polyethylene plastic grass and an in-fill base of “crumb rubber” from ground-up recycled tires. Main advantage of Astroturf is that it provides all-weather playing surface. Besides, it does not require irrigation, trimming, weeding, fertilizers etc. However, it is also a fact that over its life under normal circumstances, Astroturf is expected to experience contamination, compaction, granule loss, growth of moss, algae and weeds. Also, with the passage of time the artificial grass fibres become much worn and the seams/cut-in lines become detached. This results in poor drainage, poor play characteristics besides impacting the player’s safety.
Hence, not only occasional maintenance of Astroturf is essential, but it also requires a full and comprehensive maintenance programme from the day it is installed.
The same concern regarding maintenance of the Astroturf was shared by a few among the football fraternity. Discussing the issue with famous footballer and In-charge State Football Academy – MehrajUd Din Wadoo, Mehraj said,“as far as TRC Astroturf is concerned, even though ground staff of 3-4 people does the day to day cleaning of the playfield, yet there is no comprehensive maintenance programme in place. Moreover, much required equipment has not been purchased till date. Althougha proposal was mooted by the concerned in the State Sports Council, but the procurement has not been completed till date.”
Likewise, Technical Director State Football Academy and former Indian National (Women’s) team Coach Sajid Dar was of the view, “Normally, the life of astroturf is 5-7 years which can be extended to around 10 years provided adequate maintenance which includes regular combing of the artificial grass and filling it with rubber which has a cushion effect. However, given the lack of maintenance equipment and also the amount of footfall on the pitch, if remedial steps are not taken, TRC Astroturf may not live its full life.”
Ex-captain Indian national football team and legendary footballer of the valley Abdul Majeed Kakroo is of the view that if the maintenance is not done well, astroturf poses great risks to the health of the players as the chemicals used in astroturf are carcinogenic.
Going by the standard practice, a comprehensive maintenance schedule of astroturf includes:
(a) Chemical Treatment – to eliminate the growth of weeds, moss and algae. Ideally this process is carried out prior to the regular maintenance, this allows the chemicals to penetrate the surface and assist the ease with which detritus is removed.
(b) Deep Cleaning – Using rotary power brushes the pile is lifted, the top infill layer removed, filtered, vacuumed and dropped back into place. This process should be carried out every month (or as a minimum every quarter) to reduce surface contamination, compaction and the growth of moss, algae and weeds.
(c) Surface Refurbishment – After a number of years artificial grass surfaces, particularly sand filled, can become contaminated and compacted. This results in poor drainage and poor play characteristics.Removal of the contaminated infill using our thorough refurbishment process allows new sand/rubber to then be spread and brushed into the carpet leaving the facility as good as new. This process is far more cost effective than the installation of a new surface and can increase the surface life by 50%.Periodically, a refurbishment deep clean may be required to de-compact and remove contaminated infill.
Moreover, the above maintenance schedule is executed on ground with the help of specialized equipment including RTC Tractor for regular brushing and routine pitch maintenance, Drag Brush for evening and levelling playing surface etc.
Although, every project is executed as a package which includes adequate inventory of spares and maintenance equipment, installation of astroturf at around Rs. 4.5 crore without providing for any maintenance equipment is surprising.
Under these circumstances, it is high time to wake up to the call of the crying turf. Procuring necessary equipment, devising a comprehensive maintenance schedule in line with standard practices and regulating the footfall onto the pitch are need of the hour to save the dying turf. Else, we have another Dal lake in the making.