Thursday, April 29, 2010

CWG set to become the biggest draw

I knew instinctively that the world had started seeing the larger picture of the Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi when in one of my recent interviews, an overseas journalist asked me about the importance of the Games to India’s emergence as a soft power. With 155 days to go for the start, there is growing awareness about India and its incredible draw.

Perhaps, that is the reason we continue to hear good news from countries as far flung as Australia and England. In the past week, the Australian Commonwealth Games Association CEO, Mr Perry Crosswhite and Commonwealth Games England Chairman Sir Andrew Foster have reassured their athletes that Delhi will be safe and secure for their athletes and have said they will both bring the biggest contingents to a CWG outside their home nations. Between these two teams, I guess they will account for nearly 1200 participants in the Games.

From a sporting perspective, I was delighted to hear that Australia has named a preliminary squad of 69 track and field athletes including world pole vault champion Steve Hooker. Australia has also announced a 48-member swimming contingent including 2008 Olympic champion Stephanie Rice and former world record holder Eamon Sullivan. Olympic silver medallist Geoff Huegill, who has lost 45kg in a year and a half, is also in the squad. Double Olympic gold medalist swimmer Rebecca Adlington and world champs Liam Tancock and Gemma Spofforth will spearhead England’s challenge.

I was also pleased when I heard that England’s Bradley Wiggins, who had three Olympic gold medals and five world championship titles against his name, has decided to focus on competing in the Commonwealth Games ahead of the World Championship to be held in Australia in September 2010. And, in Adelaide, World and Olympic champion Anna Meares, who is expected to compete in three events in Delhi, has said all the Aussie riders were looking forward to locking horns with their British rivals and the strong Kiwi team at the Games.

Indeed, when the Queen’s Baton was in Sydney, Melbourne and Gold Coast this month, we saw how sport can be a marvellous bridge between societies. Friendship through Sport is one of our key themes and we will see this emerge in a big way when the baton reaches India from the Wagah Border on June 25, 2010.

Back home, as we prepare to host the CGF’s CoCom next month, we are very confident that we are on course to organising a great Games that will leave an impact in the minds of all concerned — athletes, technical officials, sponsors, broadcasters and other media, volunteers, spectators and, above all, the citizens of Delhi. We have got a tremendous response for our volunteer programme Delhi United, inspiring confidence that the city’s young and old alike have started taking ownership of the Games. Besides, I can see a growing awareness about Olympic sport in India.

Let me leave you to mull over a statement by Australia’s Chef de Mission. A wonderful marathon runner in his time and Mayor of the Games Village in 2006, Steve Moneghetti told the media on the sidelines of the Queen’s Baton Relay 2010 in Melbourne that he is really looking forward to returning to Delhi. “It’s such a cosmopolitan place and a place you really fall in love with,” he said. I am sure each athlete will say the same after the Games. Yes, indeed, it is time for everyone to discover what a beautiful city Delhi is and what a wonderful country India is.

Private participation a must for developing more houses in Delhi

The JNNURM funds have almost exhausted and much more are required for revamping Indian cities, says urban development secretary M Ramachandran in an exclusive interview with FE’s Kakoly Chatterjee. He also discusses the finer implications of the plan to allow private participation in building houses in Delhi and the preparations for Commonwealth Games.

Is your ministry focusing on new schemes now that most of the funds for Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) are already used up and the programme is in its last phase?

Cities and states have to concentrate on improving implementation and so it is not correct to say that there is nothing in hand now. Implementation is a big task as although a sum of Rs 29,000 crore has already been committed for mission cities and approximately Rs 12,000 crore have been disbursed, a huge amount still remains unutilised. If we keep the seven-year deadline of the mission, only two years are left for the completion while the task is mammoth. Lack of new funds could affect taking up of new projects, but for that the Planning Commission will try to find new funds for the urban agenda once the mid-term review is completed. However, the pace of implementation of the projects and meeting reform milestones still remains a concern. We are focusing on that and asking the states to expedite the pace. Of the JNNURM funds, a very small amount still remains uncommitted and some states—Jharkhand, Delhi and West Bengal— are yet to receive funds.

Also, we have started discussion with the World Bank for tying up a sum of $1 billion. The concept paper is taking shape and hopefully by the end of this year, they will go through the approval process. The release of funds is likely by the beginning of next year. As far as including more cities under JNNURM is concerned, it will depend on the outlay by the Planning Commission. The discussions that we have had with the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission show that he is aware of the requirements. Some reports have come out recently including the McKinsey and Isher Ahluwalia reports which say that more investments are required in the sector.

How will you compare urban development projects of India and those of other developing countries?

We do present our work at the international level whenever we have an opportunity. I attended the Transportation Research Board (TRB) meeting earlier this year where people wanted to know how we are implementing this programme in our cities. In fact, the housing secretary of US was curious to know how this works in a federal system. There was a request from Bangladesh which is keen to know how the mission is working. Also, there is a sharing of information via channels like Asian Development Bank or World Bank. Agencies like the World Bank are on board with us. Perhaps for the first time the World Bank showed some interest in Indian urban development and offered to work with us. So, there is an all-round recognition of the huge initiatives that have been taken in this area. This is a big achievement. There is scope for lot of give and take and these might not be formalised or structured.

What are your objectives when it comes to Delhi zonal plans?

Under the plan, areas would be earmarked for residential, commercial and mixed development.

The plan for Lutyens’ zone would be formulated in such a manner that the ambience remains largely intact. An eco-friendly development plan is under preparation for the Yamuna bank zone.

Will private participation be allowed in Zonal Plans?

A policy decision on that is yet to be taken and the Delhi Development Authority is still working that out. Currently, only DDA can build houses in Delhi but once private participation is allowed, the DDA and the private players would be in a position to pool in land, increase housing stock and provide housing for the poor, too. It may not be possible for DDA alone to bridge the gap between requirement and availability of housing in the city. Increasing housing stock is a huge challenge and it is not possible for one agency or company to address the scarcity.

What kind of resource mobilisation will be required to develop the infrastructure once the new land bank is released after the finalisation of the zonal plans?

I cannot quantify it but huge investments will be required to put water, sewerage, electricity and other infrastructure requirements in place.

The stimulus package for buses worked as a miracle for some cities for which revamping of urban transport was long overdue. Are you planning to extend this scheme to other cities as well?

It all depends on availability of resources. Earlier we had moved for extending this facility to cities but it could not be carried on because of fund crunch. New schemes can be planned only when the Planning Commission agrees and gives an outlay but there is no such development as of now. When the new plan period starts we hope to start new infrastructure schemes for the sector, depending on the resources available and private participation.

Will bonds be issued to raise funds?

Cities have to take a call if they want to raise more funds. There is no central assistance apart from the Plan panel allocation. If any local body wants to issue a bond it is welcome to do so. Urban local bodies are competent to do that but they have to become more dynamic by taking some steps like implementing double entry in their accounts system etc. Cities also have to change the way they function.

The real estate sector is worried over the service tax proposed in the Budget.They have expressed concern over the proposed tax, but the sector is now on the recovery path. One will have to wait for the finance minister’s reply in Parliament (to know if the tax will be implemented).

What is the status of the real estate regulatory Bill?

We are in consultation with various stakeholders before we finalise it. However, we will not be introducing the Bill in this session of Parliament. Once the Bill becomes a law, there will be more transparency in the sector.

How much work is uncomplete for Commonwealth Games and what challenges are you facing right now? Is there any fund crunch?

All work is on track and the stadia work should be completed by the end of June. It is a comfortable situation because the work is going as per the schedule. No, there is no fund crunch for the Commonwealth Games.

By when do you see Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) coming up in Indian cities?

Some of the cities in the country are already in the process of forming this body. It will be a single decision making body that will take policy decisions on all aspects of transport in a city like roads and traffic management and coordination between various modes like metros and buses. Common ticketing will be facilitated. It will be easier to be implemented once it becomes a legislative body

MCD in trouble over poor waste disposal

Taking a serious view of the worsening state of solid waste management in the city, the Delhi High Court on Thursday issued a contempt of court notice to Anil Prakash, Director of the Sanitation Wing of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD).

Reminding the civic agency about the fast-approaching Commonwealth Games, a Bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul told the civic agency: “In the name of

the event, you exercise your right everywhere but it seems you have completely forgotten your duties.”

The official is to respond to the notice on August 27.

The court’s action came after the latest (April 15) report of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which portrayed a dismal picture and showed deterioration in the handling of solid waste by MCD.

The CPCB conducted a survey of 1,676 waste receptacles including dhalaus, dustbins and waste collection trolleys across 12 zones of MCD and two circles of North and East Delhi between January 6 and March 23, 2010.

As per their 40th report, 47 per cent of them were found in unsanitary condition, while 27 per cent were in a dilapidated condition.

The court noted that the condition of the waste receptacles had worsened, as in their 39th report eight months ago, the figures were 36 per cent and 23 per cent respectively.

The panel also noted that there was a 13 per cent increase in the presence of stray animals near dhalaus.

The CPCB said the situation was much better in the 640 waste collection centres of New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) that they inspected.

Although the MCD assured the court on March 5 that the situation had improved after it took effective measures, the court clearly told the MCD that it would issue a contempt notice if the latest CPCB found the claim to be false.

The court was hearing a PIL filed by lawyer Ashok Aggarwal, bringing to its attention poor sanitary conditions in the Capital.

Getting ready for Commonwealth Games, Gurgaon traffic cops hit the gym

The Gurgaon Police has sent several of its senior traffic officers to the training barracks to shape up before the Commonwealth Games.

The Games and the wide exposure it will bring for the National Capital Region are reasons enough to lose the belly, the top brass has warned juniors. It has decided to pull out several “potbellied” traffic officers and replace them with those who are more energetic and fighting fit.

The police top brass has noticed for long that the more portly officers tend to throw their weight around rather than do their job.

A recent medical check-up of all Gurgaon police officers, including that of the senior rung in the commissionerate, has shown that many are unhealthy; some are even ailing. Most cops blamed the tough work schedules for their condition.

They pointed out the unruly traffic in the Millennium City was a mean snarl, not easy to tame. Seniors, many said, lacked the required degree of fitness.

At present, nearly 267 policemen direct traffic in the city. Almost an equal number need to be recruited in the traffic department before the Games, sources said. The force also has over three dozen women traffic constables.

The traffic police are also expected to be on top behaviour with violators. Gurgaon’s Police Commissioner S S Deswal said: “It is important for traffic officers to maintain decorum on duty. They should be polite to commuters, specially to women. We also expect women constables to behave properly with traffic violators.”

Grewal added the traffic officer’s work is the toughest. They have difficult work conditions, and are always caught in the thick of pollution, he said. And to add to it all are the rowdy drivers.

Grewal said senior traffic officers have already been sent to police lines for a rigorous programme that will include several hours in the gym.

Other senior officers, including the assistant commissioner of the traffic department, are keeping a hawk’s eye on how traffic policemen on the road are going about their job.

Govt should be more transparent in funding CWG: NGO

An independent organisation has sent a petition to an MLA asking the government to be more transparent in the massive funding of the Commonwealth Games 2010, and claimed that none of it will come to any use to the common man.

United Volunteers Association (UVA), a youth group, yesterday petitioned the Sadar Bazar MLA Rajesh Jain with arguments and written documents presenting the ''real face of the CW Games and how it works against the poor in the city''.

The petition claimed that close to Rs 27,000 crores have reportedly been spent on projects connected with the CW Games.

''For a city, which cannot supply drinking water to half its residents, has to borrow power every summer and has half the city living in slums, this expense is criminal,'' Sandeep Malhotra of UVA who led the delegation to meet Mr Jain, said.

The UVA demanded a commitment from the government that an equivalent sum would be spent on the citys slum dwellers.

UP gears up to attract tourism during Common Wealth Games

Uttar Pradesh Government is preparing itself in a big way to showcase the rich historical and cultural traditions of the state with special highlight on Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri during the fortnight long Commonwealth Games 2010 to be held in New Delhi
from October 3.

On the lines of Taj Mahotsav, the state Government will organise a mega international cultural fest in Agra during the games where the traditional values of Braj would be highlighted along with a focus on the other important religious and cultural traditions of the state.

'' UP Government is already doing the ground work to invite of world class artistes at that time who will enthral the foreign tourists who visit Taj,''said UP director general tourism Avneesh Awasthi said here today.

Talking to UNI, Mr Awasthi, who is personally monitoring the programmes and the development works in Agra-Mathura- Fatepur Sikri region to attract the foreign tourists coming to the country during Commonwealth Games, said the cultural programmes would be a bonanza with the participation of national and international artistes.

Refusing to divulge details about the participating artistes, he said it was still five months away. So most of the invitees were yet to confirm their participation. We are also trying to rope in all the artistes who would perform in the Games in Delhi,'' he said adding that the programme would be similar like the annual Taj Mahotsav. Expecting about 1,00,000 tourists in Delhi during the Games, a majority travelling to visit Taj and Jaipur, the UP tourism has also started sprucing up the with facilities financial aid from the Centre as well as from the state government. ''Private investors are already constructing several hotels in Agra, Mathura and Fatehpur Sikri while way-side ammenities are being developed on the 180 km road between New Delhi-Mathura- Agra-Fatehpur Sikri,'' he added.

Meanwhile, the Centre has sanctioned 10 battery operated buses and 10 golf carts for Taj to ferry foreign tourists during their visits.

Commonwealth Games England launch vote to choose Delhi anthem

Commonwealth Games England (CGE) will let the nation decide which anthem will be played at the New Delhi Games after launching a competition that will allow the public to vote online.

Voters can choose  between God Save The Queen, Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory - with the winner becoming the official anthem of the England Team to be played on the podium in Delhi, as well as at the welcoming ceremony when the St. George’s flag is raised.

Edward Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory is the current anthem but was criticised during Manchester's Commonwealth Games in 2002.

Duncan Lewis, Marketing Director for Commonwealth Games England, said, “We’re really excited that the nation will be deciding our anthem for the Games.

"Everybody has their own opinion on what should be played, and having the public actively involved in the team’s decision making is great. Their involvement represents everything that we’re trying to achieve with our inclusive ‘We Are England’ brand – bringing the whole of the country together”.

Scottish athletes voted for Flower of Scotland to be their official national anthem for Delhi earlier this year.

Scotland the Brave had been used at previous games, but athletes voted by 211 to 15 in favour of Flower of Scotland.

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