Friday, July 16, 2010

70 days to go, pack-up for Commonwealth Games caterers

It has all the markings of becoming an international embarrassment for the country. A year after the organizing committee (OC) floated a request for proposal (RFP) for selecting caterers for the 19 Commonwealth Games venues, it has now cancelled all but one, with just 70-odd days to go for the event.

The only contract that remains is the one for the Commonwealth Games Village, which is with Delaware North-Taj SATS consortium. The decision to cancel the others comes barely two months after the OC had finally selected six firms as caterers in its 11 clusters. The firms had been selected after a long tender process that included the re-issuing of the RFP earlier in March this year. Confirmed Lalit Bhanot, spokesperson for the OC, "The tenders have been scrapped as the cost was coming out to be too high."

Interestingly, the process now adopted is via "nomination". The nomination, say sources, will be submitted by the chairperson of the OC, namely Suresh Kalmadi. The decision to both terminate the contracts as well as to adopt the nomination process was taken at an executive board meeting held on June 27. Sources say the nomination process is usually adopted when expediting a project. "Since the Games are two months away, there's no time to re-float another tender. So nominating a firm and getting approval from the executive board on the nomination was deemed to be the only option left," added a source.

Incidentally, the OC had confirmed the selection of the firms in May this year, after due process. At that time, the firms had submitted not only the plans on infrastructure required to feed athletes and delegates at the venues but also the cost involved. OC had accepted the terms, and intimated selection. Only the letter of award was left to be given as official confirmation of the award of the contract. However, over the past few months, OC had been unwilling to shell out the monies agreed upon with the firms. "Of the Rs 116 crore budget for catering, Rs 100 crore has been given to the Village consortium. The cost of catering at the rest of the venues was coming to around Rs 70 crore which OC refused to pay," added a source.

The catering issue has been dogging the OC for some time now. With more than 30 lakh meals expected to be cooked during the fortnight of the Commonwealth Games, its one of the most important functional areas of the Games. At an estimate, 2,500 meals will be served every hour, say sources. To ensure the international standards required for the process, the OC had selected the firms based on specific criteria. Sources say the plan at present is to get the caterer of the Village to prepare meals for athletes and delegates at other venues as well. However, with only two months left to the event, fear of selecting a qualified firm looms large for the organizing committee. Sources say that negotiations are on with IRCTC to take over catering at all venues. IRCTC was, incidentally, one of the firms selected earlier to cater at major Games venues such as Jawaharlal Nehru stadium.

Sources say the delay would cost the country in the run-up to the Games. Said the official, "The international norm is six months as lead time for catering for any big event like the Commonwealth Games." Some of the firms selected earlier include IRCTC, Narulas, Old Worlde hospitality and Graviss hospitality.

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