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Surface tension: Turf companies battle it out

The good news is SAI is bringing nine astroturfs to India. The bad news is there?s controversy in the tenders phase, report K Armugam/Ajai Masand.

india Updated: Oct 25, 2006 23:36 IST

It could well be the best thing to be happening to Indian hockey- nine astro turfs across the country and, most importantly, in hockey’s tribal strongholds, costing a whopping Rs 24 crore.

However, a controversy seems to be brewing in the initial tendering phase itself, with a majority of the turf-laying companies piqued with a ‘vital’ clause that has been deleted through a corrigendum recently.

The aggrieved companies now allege that the deletion of the clause would tilt the balance heavily in favour of one New Delhi-based company —Sportina Exim Pvt Ltd, which markets the Belgian product Desso. Incidentally, Desso had laid the turfs at the National Stadium in the Capital. It had got worn out quickly, drawing flak from players and officials.

When the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) had invited global tenders on behalf of the Sports Authority of India (SAI), there was a clause that only those companies would be eligible that had laid turfs in either the Olympic Games, World Cup, Junior World Cup, Champions Trophy, Champions Challenge, FIH Olympic Games Qualifier, FIH World Cup Qualifier, Commonwealth Games or the Asian Games. Desso, however, has not provided the turf for any of the events mentioned above.

However, the clause was annulled through a corrigendum dated October 5. Only a certificate from the International Hockey Federation (FIH) or FIH-accredited laboratory would now be enough for applying for the tender.

The CPWD had invited tenders for turfs in Gandhinagar, Kolkata, Madikere (Karnataka), Kandivali (Mumbai), NIS (Patiala), Shillaroo (Shimla), Sonepat and Sundergarh.

Rajiv Sharma, general manager of the Delhi-based Jubilee Technologies, the India representative of Poligrass brand, says: “The corrigendum lends equal status to manufacturers of inferior quality turfs to compete against the quality ones.

Recently, all the turfs laid at Chennai, Rourkela and other places had the (above mentioned) technical eligibility clause …so why not here?” he questions.
“The SAI has come up with a great idea to lay turfs all across the county. This will boost hockey in the country. But SAI should also ensure the quality and durability of the turfs.”

The two turfs at the National Stadium laid by Desso in 2002 turned bald within a couple of years of their laying. At certain spots, the turf just came off, resulting in a furore during the Indira Gold Cup in 2005. It was a pathetic sight seeing some pockets on the field being stitched in daylight even as teams from foreign countries watched amusingly.

SAI director-general (DG), RP Watal counters the allegations, saying, “The turfs deteriorated quickly because we didn’t take good care of them. We didn’t have proper cleaning machines and washed the surface with whatever detergent we had.

“It’s more a case of poor maintenance than poor quality (of turf) that resulted in the wear and tear. Also, the turf was used extensively.”
However, the Shivaji Stadium turf in the Capital is still in good shape after 7-8 years of laying and indiscriminate use!

Sharma adds that in a country like India, durability should be paramount. “The FIH does not have any clause on durability, the buyer has to decide it,” he says.

Inderjeet Mehta, representing Polytan brand in India, says, “The FIH is like a government body that okays kachcha roads, highways and super highways. It is up to the authorities (SAI and CPWD) what they want — kachcha roads or super highways.”

However, Hiren Seth, who markets Desso in India, refutes allegations that his turfs are substandard. “The Delhi lobby had introduced the clause in the first place to keep us away from competing … I’m happy it (the clause) has been deleted now,” says Seth. “If the Prime Minister likes a Mercedes Benz, it doesn’t mean the BMW is inferior.”

He also accepted that Desso did make a representation to the CPWD (to annul the clause). “Like all other competitors, ours is also an FIH-approved company … so why keep us away,” says Seth.

CPWD officials refute charges that the corrigendum was issued under pressure from any quarter. They assign the reason for a rethink to routine internal processes of checks and counter-checks.

Interestingly, Desso’s Hiren Seth had filed a case against the choice of turf in Chennai, which he lost on the deposition of two hockey Olympians.
“Olympians can be bought, what’s the big deal!” is Seth’s take.

SAI DG Watal also says that Desso had approached him. “Desso had raised some points as they felt they were being shortchanged,” he said. “It’s not that Desso will get all the contracts; the works will be distributed. Moreover, the FIH has assured us that unless and until the turfs are tested at FIH-recognised international laboratories, they won’t be laid.”

The turf games have begun. One hopes the powers-that-be provide the best turfs for India’s best talent to blossom.

First Published: Oct 25, 2006 23:36 IST