The setting and location are out of place. A strong odour emanates from the Yamuna nearby and tall grass on one side partially blocks the view. The children, however, do not care. The ground is flat and compacted, just the way they want it. They are dressed in their cricket whites and their kit bags lie on the side.
A part of the Yamuna floodplains, where the Art of Living festival was held in March 2016, is now home to a cricket coaching centre. Started two months ago, the Skillz Cricket Academy has set up a permanent cricket pitch and a green net where children play, on the floodplains near Mayur Vihar Phase 1.
According to Harsh Gautam, one of the people who started the academy, this is his agricultural land, a part of which he decided to use to set up the academy. “We primarily use that land for farming activities and grow vegetables. We started a small academy there and set up a cricket pitch and nets in the area. About four-five children come to us for coaching. We don’t charge any fee as these children come to us from nearby areas,” Gautam said.
On Thursday afternoon, however, eight children were seen practising at the academy. Asked whether he has taken permission from any government authority, Gautam said, “It’s just an informal set-up on our land. I have not taken any permission.”
According to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and the Delhi Development Authority, the land can only be used for farming by people who have occupied the land. No compaction, dumping of debris or permanent construction is allowed on the floodplains.
Officials at DDA denied any knowledge of the presence of the academy. “We have been conducting regular inspection of the area. Security guards have also been deployed to make sure there is no illegal activity on the floodplains. We did not come across any cricket academy. We will check if something has come up in the area and its status,” said a senior DDA official.
It is not just a cricket academy that has been attracting youngsters to the floodplains. For the past several months, a group of boys has used the now-compacted land as their football field.