A little over 24 hours before they host Shillong Lajong, Mohun Bagan got the home venue of their choice in the 10th I-League when the Eastern Bench of the National Green Tribunal gave the 127-year-old club permission to use the Rabindra Sarovar stadium, which has natural turf, on Thursday.
Failing to get the clearance last week meant Mohun Bagan had to start the I-League, against Churchill Brothers on Sunday, at Barasat stadium, some 28km from city centre in the North 24 Parganas district.
Lack of time means Mohun Bagan would only be allowed to print 4,500 tickets for Friday’s match in a stadium that holds around 12,000.
The bench comprising Justice SP Wangdi and expert member PC Mishra let Mohun Bagan use the stadium in an ecologically sensitive region subject to them fulfilling conditions it had imposed on Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) in the third edition of the Indian Super League (ISL). They include a 10m high black screen on the perimeter to prevent flood lights from spilling out.
The Rabindra Sarovar Lake was declared a national lake in 2002 and is protected under the National Lake Conservation Plan. The area, including 73 acres of water body, spreads over 192 acres in south Kolkata is home to different species of birds and animals.
Mohun Bagan approached ATK in December, said an official with the franchise. ATK’s principal owner Sanjiv Goenka told HT in November that he lost R 15 crore because they couldn’t use the Salt Lake stadium, which is being readied for the under-17 World Cup this year, and had to get the much smaller stadium ready.
Installing floodlights cost around R 7 crore, the ATK official said, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to talk to the media. Mohun Bagan are paying ATK around R 1 crore, said a club official who also did not want to be quoted given the sensitive nature of the issue.
Mohun Bagan finance secretary Debasish Dutta said it would cost the club “significantly more” to use this stadium as home as opposed to the one in Barasat but being in the city and having a natural turf made them opt for it. Mohun Bagan skipper Katsumi Yusa and East Bengal’s veteran midfielder Mehtab Hossain have said playing on artificial turf increases stress on ankles, heel and knee and players need more time to recover.
“ATK and the ISL spent so much to get the stadium ready. It would have been a pity to let it rot after the ISL,” said Dutta.
Given that Mohun Bagan would also play the AFC Cup this term, it is possible that they would choose the Sarovar stadium as home. Last season, Mohun Bagan played AFC Cup matches in Guwahati.
So, though no one’s talking of a merger between the I-League and the ISL --- or, for that matter a joint-venture between Mohun Bagan and ATK --- this is another example of how the leagues that already share a large number of players feed off each other.
(With inputs from Joydeep Thakur)