Conquerors of the golden city

Published: March 11, 2010 - 14:53 Updated: December 3, 2011 - 16:42

In March 2010,Hardnews reported of the many irregularities in the Commonwealth Games. It was futureless quagmire, those games and Delhi seemed to be helplessly sinking in a haze of smoke and construction, beside a sewage-drain called the Yamuna. While Suresh Kalmadi had the last laugh
Akash Bisht and Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

Some days back, an advertisement on the upcoming Commonwealth Games (CWG) appeared in several newspapers seeking volunteers. The irony was that most of the volunteers posing for the ad were 'employees' of the Organising Committee (OC). With games just a sniffing distance away, the preparedness can be well gauged from this 'event'.

The hurry and haste in pulling off a 'successful' CWG is clearly evident from the uncanny narratives that keep resurfacing in the media and elsewhere. For instance, the Commonwealth Games Federation Coordination Commission report noted, "Venue delivery and handover schedules have recently been pushed back from January to March and for athletics/ceremonies and aquatics to the end of June. This has had a detrimental impact on test events. ...Any further delay will have a substantial impact on (the) games' operational delivery."

While the massive spending in millions of public money is increasing manifold with each passing day, most games venues are still running behind schedule and doubts linger about a timely finish. Union Sports Minister MS Gill had earlier accepted that the preparation is at least four years behind schedule. Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit has cryptically said that she too was sceptical about the preparedness for the games.
At a time when the CWG idea was proposed, Rs 200 crore was the budget. With passing years, this figure has gone up drastically to Rs 1,600 crore. And this does not include Rs 4,100 crore which is being spent on different stadia and other facilities across New Delhi. The amount excludes several thousand crore which are being spent on building new infrastructure or in the renovation of the existing ones. It is believed the final projected cost stands at approximately Rs 20,000 crore. No wonder, opposition parties are demanding a white paper on this gigantic expenditure.

Besides, it's being pointed out that a huge endeavour like this should change the internal dynamics of the city in terms of an enduring future project for many generations: its roads and pavements, cable/electricity/water networks, sanitation, sewage and drainage systems, flyovers, parks, stadiums, residential structures, unauthorised structures, housing for the poor, parking, public toilets, traffic systems, public transport etc. But, barring the Metro, this CWG seems least bothered about planning a future in terms of creating a new people-friendly, post-modern, universally acclaimed urban dynamic of great cities. It's mostly short-term and ornamental, with no long-term vision, and no lessons from Beijing, London, Athens or Amsterdam. It all seems to be rotating around turning the traffic-jammed city of cars upside down, pampering the affluent zones, driven by ritualistic inefficiency, and centred around an awesome amount of money and construction/builder lobbies.
A leading expert drew a list of comparisons between the Asiad Games of 1982 and CWG. He points out that Asiad was a success and most participating nations fondly remember it. While the total budget for the Asiad was only Rs 108 crore, the CWG expenditure has hit the sky. Recently, Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the Organising Committee (OC), demanded an exorbitant sum of Rs 400 crore for the closing and opening ceremonies, while during Asiad, the sum was as low as Rs 2 crore. "Even the contract for the closing and opening ceremonies has been awarded to companies which have strong links with Mr Kalmadi," the BJP leader Vijay Goel said.  Goel was sacked at Kalmadi's behest from the OC after he publicly protested against the "dubious dealings" by the Kalmadi-led CWG establishment.

Others in the sports fraternity are equally aghast: "Why does Kalmadi need such a huge amount for just two symbolic ceremonies? What a waste in a poor country like India. This is vulgar, absurd; it defies logic." Even others, more cynical, said, "This has nothing to do with sports. This is the commonwealth of organised loot."

Goel also levelled corruption charges against the OC. He has complained to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) regarding the Republic Day tableau controversy. The cost of the CWG tableau was a whopping Rs 1 crore and was created by a company that had no prior experience. "The tableau can only be included if the maker has an experience of more than three years at the parade.

However, the tableau-maker in this year's parade had no prior experience. I have lodged a complaint with the CVC. Besides, I can get the same tableau made for just Rs 15 lakh," challenges Vijay Goel.
He also accused the OC of a possible plantation scam. "The contract for plantation was given at a cost of Rs 100 crore, the contractor has sub-let it to another company for Rs 60 crore. So what happens to the rest Rs 40 crore and who gets to share it is anybody's guess," says Goel.

Worried over the preparations, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) started to flex its muscles. It pointed out that almost 54 agencies have missed their deadlines and it was then that the CGF Executive Board set up an independent technical committee that will monitor progress of the games every month. None of these committees has any Indian representation. It was later disclosed that 44 foreign consultants have been brought in. Their salaries are reportedly close to Rs 100 crore, and the number of foreign experts could increase. This money is planned to be raised through tickets, broadcasting rights, sponsorship, et al. Doubts are being raised about these revenue generating sources that have marred the CWG's accounts in the past as well, often mired in messy problems. Ironically, all this is being done even when India has a sizeable pool of trained technocrats.

For their expertise, the sponsorship and licensing contract was handed over to SMAM, an Australian company with strong links with the Australian Commonwealth Association and the Australian Olympic Committee. The primary work of the company is that of generating Rs 1,000 crore revenue from advertisements. For this, the company will be paid a commission of 20 per cent. There are reports that SMAM has not been able to generate anything as sponsorship from private firms as yet. "They don't have any sponsorship and it is only at the last moment that they would ask sponsorships from public sector entities. So if these entities do sponsor the event, then why should SMAM get 20 per cent - because, after all, this is government's money? Hence, paying commission to a private company for government funds is outrageous," says Mohd Aslam Khan, former Chairman, Accreditation and Protocol, CWG Delhi 2010.
For unknown reasons, the OC has kept all the information guarded and has requested the government to keep it out of the purview of the RTI Act. Only after the Central Information Commission's order, the OC started entertaining RTI applications. "I have received no replies from the OC on the RTIs that I have filed. What is the OC hiding?" says Goel.

Fuelling fears are nagging worries: will the games pass off in perfect shape? There are allegations that most employees in the OC have no sports background. "It is not an organising committee, but Suresh Kalmadi's private company," says Goel.  More than 23 different sub-committees formed to delegate and decentralise work were not working until recently when the OC vice chairman publicly blasted the top brass. "Failure will be magnified as the games come near. You will see it happening two months before the games and than it will be too late for any remedial action. I am not worried about the infrastructure, my worry is confined to the effective delivery of the games. It is not a joke to conduct multi-disciplinary events," says Khan.

Also, the Commonwealth Youth Games held in Pune in 2009 as a prelude to the CWG was a 'failed exercise' and witnessed much chaos and mismanagement. "They haven't learnt lessons from the Pune experience and are trying to emulate the same model. This is outrageous," says Khan. "Experts have pointed that we should have followed the 1982 model instead of blindly aping the European or Australian model. The Asiad was a phenomenon and had a unique Indian flavour that is still remembered. I have been to the last two CWG events; there was nothing special about them and many things were below par. But we are used to blindly copying western models in India," says a former Olympian. Experts say that the 'Kalmadi caucus' is blindly aping the European style, rejecting the successful 1982 Asiad model.

Several experts in the field of sports believe that these delays in the completion of venues can jeopardise the prospects of Indian athletes who will lose the home turf advantage. Recently, star pugilist Vijender Singh had complained about the delay in the completion of the Talkatora Stadium - venue for the Commonwealth boxing championship scheduled to be held from March 10. "The boxers should get to practise at the venue at least five-six days before the start to get a hang of the real conditions," Vijender told the media.  

There are speculations as to how the already choked city will cater to such a large number of foreign sportspersons, tourists and dignitaries. The recent Commonwealth shooting championship at the newly built and swanky Karni Singh shooting range saw the entire road to Faridabad being shut for 10 days. Would the games put the capital under siege?

Most of the frenzied development remains confined to the posh areas of New Delhi, while the beautification of 'already beautiful and luxurious power zone', Lutyens' Delhi, is in full swing. Absolutely perfect pavements are being unnecessarily ripped apart in affluent zones and rebuilt again with new tiles, in what seems a brazen act of fake rebuilding and at huge costs. Connaught Place is being renovated. Posh colonies like Gulmohar Park are being dug up and spruced up. "What is the rationale of spending huge sums for sprucing up private properties?" asks Goel. 

The MCD has earmarked a whopping Rs 19 crore for the streetscaping of Lodhi Road in this sanitised zone of the affluent and powerful, populated with international institutions and clubs. Quite starkly, however, a major part of Delhi, crying for infrastructural transformation and physical well-being, has been left out. This huge, crowded, suburban and other parts of Delhi, untouched by the CWG rebuilding, continues to live with degraded sanitation systems, dirty pots of water and nullahs full of mosquitoes and potential epidemics, pot-holed streets and bylanes, garbage all over, no planning or vision, congested houses in inner lanes, commercial madness on streets, and no gardens, parks of cluster of trees as relief. It is here that one must look for pavements. People here are routinely mowed down by speeding vehicles.

Urban planners have failed to live up to the expectations of 60-65 per cent of Delhi which lives in unplanned areas like Govindpuri or trans-Yamuna. "If you don't include them in your plan that does not mean that they will stop living. The ceiling story was in microcosm a story of the failure of planning," said an expert working with a government commission on urban planning. Nearly Rs 4,000 crore is being spent by NDMC and MCD for the games. So all the rebuilding is only for the affluent and posh zones of Delhi, which are already pampered!

Moreover, what is being showcased as green games is actually getting blurred in a haze of dirt and smoke of break-neck construction. Thousands of trees have been felled, many others are dying for want of running water which has been blocked by mindless concretisation. The entire ecology of the city has been altered in the name of 'national pride'. The games village looks more like a gigantic, match-box-like luxury housing complex next to a dead, toxic, nullah of sewage called Yamuna. There is a widespread belief that this could lead to a bigger plan to 'capture' the floodplains for pure commercial gains, even while construction giants are eying the lush green 'real estate' worth billion across the Yamuna landscape.

Said a BJP leader, "Our government and leaders patronised the Akshardham temple, despite serious objections. So on what grounds can we stop the CWG and the construction of housing complexes on the riverbed? Besides, the Yamuna was a dead drain then, as it is now. So where have all the crores used to clean it up gone?"

The games village could have been built on several alternate sites in the city or on the outskirts. But, the government aided the construction lobby and handed over the ecologically fragile piece of land next to a dead river for commercial exploitation. Precisely, to link this elite new complex to 'posh' south and central Delhi, an underground road was being planned to connect Lodhi Road to Ring Road. However, despite lobbying, the plan was scrapped before it could cause damage to the environmentally and archeologically sensitive zone. Now, an elevated road is being built.

"Nowhere in the world would you see construction happening on such a massive scale on flood plains which is the river's own space," says Prof AK Gosain, eminent hydrologist. He adds that once they start the process of constructing embankments, there is no end to it. "Then one can open up the whole river for commercial exploitation," he says. In the already water scarce, arid landscape of Delhi, the Yamuna flood plains are one of the last remaining sources where ground water level, however toxic, is still high.

Gosain was a member of the expert committee which had recommended that there should be no construction activity on the flood plains. The findings of the committee were vetoed by the government.
The water resources in the city are in a precarious condition and untreated sewage owing to lack of treatment plants contaminates the river in massive proportions, hence  the chances of reviving Yamuna are bleak. And nobody in the corridors of power is really concerned. Said Sheila Dixit categorically, "It will not be possible to clean the river ahead of the Commonwealth Games. It cannot be cleaned in just a few months."

Meanwhile, there are reports doing the rounds in the Australian media that the CWG 'security blueprint' was stolen and the whole plan had to be redrafted. These fears prompted the Aussies to cancel the Davis Cup tie in Chennai. Earlier, 26/11 had led to the transfer of IPL to South Africa. However, Delhi Police, in charge of the CWG security, is certain there is nothing to fear. "All we can say is that we have elaborate security arrangements in place," Rajan Bhagat, Delhi police spokesperson, told Hardnews.

The Hardnews team was promised a meeting with top OC officials by the CWG media team. However, no information was provided, nor did the meeting happen, despite repeated assurances. So what is it that the OC is hiding? And why?

In March 2010, Hardnews reported of the many irregularities in the Commonwealth Games. It was futureless quagmire, those games and Delhi seemed to be helplessly sinking in a haze of smoke and construction, beside a sewage-drain called the Yamuna. While Suresh Kalmadi had the last laugh
Akash Bisht and Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

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This story is from print issue of HardNews