Nothing Common about this Wealth

Published: February 26, 2010 - 19:44 Updated: May 4, 2011 - 16:34

This is the expose Hardnews carried in March 2010, long before the mainline media even cared to look at the Commonwealth Games scam. Much of the daylight robbery in the name of CWG was justified in the name of 'National Prestige' and 'world-class' aspirations. People already hit by inflation were forced to pay through their nose for this extravaganza. Suresh Kalmadi's arrest is nothing but the tip of this gigantic scam. We reproduce this landmark article for our readers.

Dunu Roy Delhi

The Commonwealth is a 'friendly' association of those 72 colonies which were once part of the British Empire and rose to free nationhood - some through protracted struggle and others through negotiation. In modern times these nations meet once every four years to play games, perhaps in an effort to forget the memories of bondage. These games have been going on since 1930, except on two occasions during the Second World War.

It is curious that of the 72 nations, only eight have been given the 'prestige' (or burden) of holding the games, and Malaysia and Jamaica are the only two 'developing' nations who figure on this list, and that too only once each. In many ways, therefore, the racial undertones of colonialism persist. In fact, on two occasions, in 1950 and 1986, the African and West Indian nations have boycotted the games.

In spite of this history, Indian leaders have aspired to join the elite club of organisers. They bid for the games in 1990 and 1994 and lost out both times, until they were 'awarded' the bid for 2010. This reward came in 2006 when the autonomous and unelected Indian Organising Committee (OC) placed Rs 1,730 crore of the nation's money under the hammer. Such was the euphoria at this 'victory' - as if India had almost won at the games itself - that the committee thought nothing of spending another Rs 27 crore to bring a team of Bollywood stars to dance and sing for precisely 11 minutes.

The committee, of course, did not consider it proper to inform the Indian  public, whose hard-earned money was being squandered, that they had magnanimously offered Rs 30 crore for training the athletes of other na¬tions and Rs 43 crore for their travel, in order to 'seal' the bid. Even then the Commonwealth Games Federation accepted the bid only after the Indian government promised to guaranteeall expenses.

In due course, the cost of the games rose to Rs 4,700 crore - a fact which so upset the then elected Union sports minister that he stated that with that amount of money he could organise sports in every village of the country. He lost his ministership, but that has not prevented the cost from spiralling to a suspected Rs 30,000 crore.

It is not surprising that the cost of the games increased - in fact, it should have been expected. Four years ago the same thing happened at Melbourne where it climbed from the bid price of Rs 670 crore to an estimated Rs 3,800 crore. Before that, Manchester went from Rs 4,000 crore to Rs 5,000 crore. And 30 years ago, the Asiad Games at Delhi led the way by shooting up from Rs 550 crore to Rs 10,000 crore.

Not only does this skyrocketing increase leave behind a host city shattered with debt, the structures created with this money for ten days of hypnotic 'sport' remain eerily derelict for years to come.

Some ill-informed 'experts' feel this happens because the Commonwealth and Asiad Games are small affairs with few spectators. If the Olympics were to be organised in Delhi, instead, then there would be a much sounder financial basis. However, history has something quite contrary on offer. Beijing, after all the hoopla of the 2008 Olympics, has refused to reveal how much was spent, although some observers claim that as much as Rs 200,000 crore was expended while the famous Birds Nest stadium today stands as an empty shell.

Earlier in 2004, Athens spent Rs 82,000 crore instead of Rs 20,000 crore and will probably be able to return the debt only after 2024. In 2000, Sydney incurred an expense that was twice the original estimate of Rs 10,000 crore and is likely to come out of the red only now. For the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, Spanish citizens had to cough up to pay a bill of Rs 40,000 crore. And London moving towards 2012 has already exceeded the budget ten times at Rs 150,000 crore. These are figures on which the Indian OC maintains a deceptive silence.

Behind the silence lie some very uneasy truths. One of them concerns the fact that this huge investment has to be eventually paid for. Some claims are, therefore, made from time to time that the profits are rolling in. For instance, the OC proclaims that it has already earned about Rs 270 crore from television rights. This impressive figure is less than 1 per cent of the current cost. Other incomes brandished are Rs 960 crore from sponsorship receipts, Rs 100 crore each from ticketing and donations, and Rs 50 crore from licensed merchandise - so munificent that they barely cross 4 per cent of investment - and this too has been exempted from tax.

So where will the money eventually come from? If the experience of other games cited above is any guide, the citizens of the city and the country will be paying the price for the next 25 years.

It will be done through raising transportation costs (bus fares are al¬ready up by 100 per cent), hiking up service charges on utilities (electricity rates are scheduled for a dramatic in¬crease), increasing property taxes in the name of good governance (as one of the main revenue sources for gov¬ernment), and steadily increasing pric¬es of consumables (with food inflation steadily hitting around 20 per cent).

But the real gold mine is land and real estate. And this is the mine that speculators of all hues and colours are avidly eyeing.

Property prices have already gone up manifold on the Metro routes. Thousands of hutments have been demolished in the name of beautifica¬tion, but actually the demolitions were used to vacate prime property.

And the camel's nose in the tent was expectedly guided by the hand of God, when the Akshardham temple was built on the flood plain of the Yamuna river at a cost of Rs 200 crore - money that the mandarins of the temple will easily recover within five years from entry fees into the garbha griha. This spiritual enterprise has led to further encroachment on the plain by the Commonwealth Games Village at Rs 670 crore - again to be rapidly recovered by sale of the flats (ministers, NRIs, and the wealthy) at reportedly, a throwaway price of Rs 2.5 crore each.

The Metro depots, the biodiversity parks, the malls and housing enclaves have not been far behind in their hunger for real estate. But the eventual pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is the 8,600 hectares of 'vacant' land between the two embankments of the river estimated to bring in a total of Rs 290,000 crore.

(On the comparative scale it could be noted that a mere Rs 100,000 crore would ensure food security to every man, woman, and child in the country.)

Indeed, much of this daylight robbery has been justified in the name of "national prestige" and "world class" aspirations. In other words, the lofty ideals of the games serve only to conceal and disguise the boardroom games that make profit lines go swifter, higher, and stronger.

Hardest hit by this intense profiteering are the most vulnerable sections of the city. Thus, 500,000 jobs are supposed to be created by the games, of whom at least 300,000 are engaged in construction. Fact-finding teams led by civil rights organisations (often physically threatened by company goons at construction sites) have revealed that several provisions under labour laws have been flagrantly violated by the employers - some of whom come from amongst the most reputed international concerns in the construction industry.

Contractual and casual work is widespread, there is no security of tenure, there are no identity cards or wage slips, wages are lower than the prescribed rates and often paid late, safety procedures are rarely followed, and living conditions are appalling.

Providing decent living conditions for this workforce would barely cost 1/3rd of 1 per cent of total project costs. This function is supposed to be looked after by the Delhi Construction Workers' Welfare Board, and it already has a welfare fund of Rs 300 crore. But the board has no dedicated staff, it barely meets, in 8 years it has managed to register only 18,000 workers, and what it has been able to conceive with regard to welfare is to release a little over Rs 10 lakh for running three creches and to propose constructing four 'holding camps' at a cost of Rs 80 crore to provide temporary shelter for migrant labourers - a task that is legally the responsibility of the construction company.

Other vulnerable sections are also the target of the developmental juggernaut set loose by the games. Earlier over 35,000 families were forcibly evicted from the banks of the river on the specious plea that they were polluting the Yamuna - although the water has become dirtier since then. Voluntary agencies have documented that as many as 300,000 more people may have been evicted from other parts of the city.

Recent reports reveal that 44 slum clusters are being removed from the roads and stadia where the athletes and the delegates to the games will travel and play. The chief secretary of Delhi has also let it be known that bamboo curtains will be erected to conceal from public gaze those who still remain.

The Delhi police have swung into action after a set of embedded academics from Delhi University recommended that beggars and cripples be rounded up and kept in detention centres and the public be educated about the "evils of almsgiving, which... promotes parasites in society and demotivates them from doing hard work". Curiously enough, this follows in the tradition of the Asiad Games three decades ago when, at the height of the Khalistan movement, no Sikhs were allowed to proceed towards Delhi.

There is, of course, no mention of how the entire games is an imposition of the worst form of parasitism on the entire city and its people, as flyovers, bypasses, roads, metro system, trolley buses, light rail, bridges, and airports come up in profusion to cater to the wealthy and the mobile while making it impossible for an ordinary person to cross the road.

It is not that the government is not aware of the trauma being imposed on vast sections of the city. It has thus declared that housing will get a 'shot in the arm' with over 40,000 low income domestic units to be built before the games. But there is a significant muteness (and deafness) over the fact that there are over 500,000 families living in the slums of Delhi. Even these 40,000 'low cost' units are likely to be flats in multi-storied blocks, costing Rs 3.3 lakhs each, of which the occupant family is expected to pay Rs 90,000 - a sum that is equivalent to three years of family income. And since no 'commercial' activity will be permitted in these units, the policy takes away all home-based work that is and has been the bread-and-butter of many of  these families.

Whether all these surreptitious, but draconian, measures will eventually deliver the Games is still an open question. The Commonwealth Games Federation has repeatedly expressed concern about the slowpace of work for the games. The federation president said in December last year that he was distressed by a report by the Federation's Evaluation Commission that two major venues would not be ready until June. The evaluation audit carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General, has found that as many as 13 of the 19 sports venues were way behind schedule. The latest news is that students from the university are likely to be rendered homeless whentheir hostels get taken over for housing delegates.

The bottom line is clear. Beaming politicians, glamorous athletes, and pompous babus cannot conceal the fact that the queen's baton has announced the advent of the big lathi to clear the city and sanitise the people so that the affluent can take their place. And the avaricious enterprise of building the 'world class' city will leave behind the detritus of world class prices, world class traffic jams, and a third class citi¬zenry. That is why the company's pro¬paganda machinery is in hyper-drive to persuade the middle class natives that "all is well" and they are not ripe lambs for slaughter.

For more on Commonwealth scam please see Hardnews March 2010 issue

Conquerors of the Golden city
It's a futureless Quagmire, these games. And Delhi seems to be helplessly sinking in a haze of smoke and construction, beside a sewage -drain called the Yamuna. While Suresh Kalmadi has the last laugh.
Akash Bisht and Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

So what about 'National Pride'?
Thousands of unorganised migrant workers building the games projects are made to live in degrading conditions, with few Fundamental Rights.
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

Once again Zero sum game
One first-time gold in Olympics and India goes berserk. The truth is our ossified sports establishment riding on millions has failed to usher in even an IOTA of sports culture in a country with just handful of medals.
Akash Bisht Delhi





This is the expose Hardnews carried in March 2010, long before the mainline media even cared to look at the Commonwealth Games scam....

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This story is from print issue of HardNews