The Bombay High Court yesterday gave a verdict which will hopefully help to finally develop the Cooperage Ground into a national level and then international standard football venue. The court in their ruling dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) against the construction of a football stadium on the premises of the Cooperage Ground with the local residents arguing that Mumbai has too little public space and the Cooperage should be public property rather then a professional sports venue. This ends years of deadlock and hopefully the work will start soon.
The verdict said, "The planning authority consisting of experts have not fixed any specific ratio of open spaces. In the absence of specific material, we can’t hold that the city requires a particular percentage of open spaces and that grant of building permission in the present case would result in diminution of open spaces to such an extent as to affect right to life."
The Cooperage Ground is already getting a FIFA sponsored artificial turf, while FIFA has made a pledge of a 2 Million US Dollar grant for the venues redevelopment and temporary stands along with new dressing rooms will be build in place of the current structures for the upcoming I-League season. There are even plans to quickly install floodlight towers to allow evening matches.
The Western Indian Football Association nor the Mumbai District Football Association had been able to redevelop the venue due to the PIL case. Even the AIFF president Praful Patel in his function as WIFA president could not do anything about the redevelopment of the ground due the PIL though the former Maharashtra chief minister Sushilkumar Shinde had allowed WIFA on July 3, 2003 to construct a full-fledged football stadium along with facilities like club house, restaurant, hotel and other commercial structures.
But in 2006 a PIL was filed by former IAS officer and former Mumbai municipal commissioner Jamshed Kanga along with members of the Oval Cooperage Residents Association against the development of the Cooperage Ground as they say the venue is not for professional sports, but rather a recreational ground where there shouldn't be any stadium build and be open for all. But many football lovers in Mumbai say that the residents just didn't want a big stadium built in front of their houses with 25,000 to 30,000 people turning up for matches. During the PIL hearing not even allowing basic renovation work to happen.
After the verdict WIFA CEO Henry Menezes said, "It is a great thing to happen for Mumbai and Maharashtra. We will now build a first class stadium with international standards which would make the city a hub for football matches."
Hopefully this will be a new start for football in Mumbai, but more venues across the financial hub of India are needed to develop the sport further.