Thursday, May 13, 2010

Two Games venues in limbo

Despite the Delhi Government's claims that all projects connected to Commonwealth Games are on schedule, the fate of two venues seem uncertain, with the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC) yet to approve their layout plans.

The projects in question are practice venues for badminton and squash and table tennis at Siri Fort Sports Complex and Yamuna Sports Complex respectively for the mega event slated from October 3-14.

"Though we have been taking up the games project on priority basis, we were surprised at the causal behaviour of the officials from the DDA for failing to attend the meeting for plan consideration. We had no choice but to defer the consideration," a senior DUAC official said.

The Commission, in its meeting last September, had noted discrepancies in the drawings of the layout plans of the venues and subsequently asked the project proponent to follow certain observations made by it.

The commission had found that there was no plan for external circulation (movement of people), including connectivity with the city network, for the TT venue.

Both the YSC and Siri Fort will also be used as training venues.

Reserved category fund being used for CWG?

The cost of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) will be borne by the poor and the socially underprivileged of the city, it seems.

According to a report released by the NGO, Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) on Thursday, Rs 265 crore from the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (Special Component Plan) for Delhi has been diverted to the CWG fund in the year 2009-10.

"If one looks at the diversion of funds since 2008 the amount is much more, in the range of Rs 550 crore," said Miloon Kothari, coordinator, HLRN.

The report demanded an independent enquiry into the transfer of funds.

The Delhi Finance Minster, AK Walia, refused to say anything on the issue. "I cannot say anything regarding this at the moment. I will have to check the records before responding," he said.

The report, called Whose Wealth? Whose Commons?, also condemned the Games for being anti-poor .

"The money that is being used to beautify the city should have been used to provide housing for the poor," said Kothari.

The report also gives the example of governments of New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago, which did not support the CWG bid of their sports authorities as the Games would prove too costly.

"The benefit of the games will go only to corporates, especially the real estste conglomerates. The poor people will not get anything," said Dunu Roy, director, Hazards Centre.

India's bid document for the CWG estimated the cost of hosting the games at Rs 1,899 crore but official estimates have put the cost at Rs 10,000 crore, the report states.

“The streetscaping project in Lodhi Roadcost Rs 18.55 crore, twice the amount had bid for the entire beautification plan. Why?” said Shalini Mishra, co-writer of the report.

The report was released by Justice AP Shah, retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court. He condemned the government for ignoring the poor of the city.

Beggars' deportation move criticised

The proposal to round up beggars in the Capital and send them back to their respective States is disturbing, said former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A. P. Shah here on Thursday.

“The government has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court to deport beggars back to their states of origin. Fraudsters, thieves and corrupt politicians can stay in the city, but not beggars!” said Justice Shah releasing a report by Housing and Land Right Network titled “The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth? Whose Commons?”

According to the report, beggars and homeless citizens are being arrested and arbitrarily detained under the Bombay Prevention of Beggary Act, 1959. The Department of Social Welfare had also announced “no-tolerance” zones in Delhi and there are plans to send the beggars back to their States of origin.

Describing the Commonwealth Games as a very powerful tool of exclusion, Economics teacher at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Prof. Amitabh Kundu, said: “In the context of exclusionary urbanisation, particularly in Delhi, the recommendations made by the report suggest that there is need for in-depth analysis of issues.”

“The key message of the report is that events such as the Commonwealth Games have certain inherent uncertainties involving the bypassing of institutional mechanisms and cost escalation for national prestige. We must think about what sort of institutional controls we can have,” he added.

In the context of slogans generated in the run-up to the Games, Prof. Kundu said slogans such as “slum-free city” and “affordable housing” were misleading as they meant different things to different sections of society.

He said the report did not imply that there were no benefits arising from the Games, rather it tried to analyse who were the beneficiaries.

Alleging that the Games had been planned without considering the opinion of democratic institutions, Director of Hazards Centre, a professional support group and resource outfit, Dunu Roy said: “The Prime Minister has claimed that the Games will be green in nature. Such statements represent bad or poor information or deliberate and wilful ignorance.”

Questioning the concept of a “world class” city popularised by authorities, Mr. Roy said money in excess of Rs.30,000 crore had been spent for the Games.

According to the report findings, the Games budget had risen from an initial projection of Rs.1,899 crore to an official figure of Rs.10,000 crore. Independent expert estimates have pegged the budget at Rs.30,000 crore.

HLRN Executive Director Miloon Kothari said: “Our decision-makers have not taken into consideration the experiences of previous world sporting events many of which have not left behind a good legacy.”

“Between now and till the Games occur and during the Games, the city is going to be affected in many ways,” he added. As per the conclusion of the HLRN report, “the entire process related to the Games has been essentially underscored by secrecy, unavailability of information, lack of government accountability and unconstitutional activities, with evidence of long-term economic, social and environmental costs for the nation and specifically for the city of Delhi. Preparations for the Games have already resulted in an irreversible alteration in the social, spatial, economic and environmental dimensions of…Delhi…”

The report recommends that there is need for a detailed inquiry into the decision-making and bidding process as well as the total expenditure on the Games. It states that the government should have a long-term legacy plan based on human rights and environmental sustainability.

There is also a need to investigate officials who had overstated the benefits of the Games, withheld critical information and misappropriated funds and also to investigate allegations of human rights violations related to the Games.

“A post-Games audit and detailed social and environmental impact assessment are also required,” the report said.

Commonwealth Games cost up 1575% since bid: NGO audit

While hosting a mega sports event, some escalation in costs is understandable as new projects get added and the scale of the show is expanded.

However, in the case of Delhi's Commonwealth Games, official cost estimates have gone up by a whopping 525% since the city won the bid. Unofficial assessments put the escalation at a mindboggling 1575% - that is more than 15 times the original estimate - according to an independent report released on Thursday.

India's bid document for the Commonwealth Games in 2003 estimated the cost of hosting the event at Rs 1,899 crore.

After several revisions the estimates now range from an official figure of Rs 10,000 crore to independent experts at an astounding Rs 30,000 crore.

These figures were put together in a 'white paper' on the financial and social cost of the event titled, The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth? Whose Commons? The report, released by former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A P Shah, uses RTI replies, government papers, expert inputs and media reports to 'unravel' the tale of escalating costs, unplanned development, and violation of human rights of the homeless, slum dwellers, beggars and construction workers in the run-up to the Games.

The report was prepared by the India chapter of Housing and Land Rights Network, which is an arm of Habitat International Coalition, an umbrella body of 400-odd human rights and development organizations. It predicts that the Games would leave behind a "severe financial legacy".

The 'white paper' cites a 2009 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General to chronicle changes in the Games' budget. "Originally, in May 2003, when the government allowed the Indian Olympic Association to bid for the CWG, an expenditure of Rs 296 crore was indicated towards upgradation of sports infrastructure and conduct of games, with expenditure on security and Games Village to be incurred by the government and Delhi Development Authority," the paper states.

The report moves on to reveal that the updated bid document of December 2003 estimated the operating expenditure alone at Rs 635 crore and other expenditure at Rs 1,200 crore.

"The first budget for the Games approved by the Cabinet in April 2007 estimated the total expenditure at around Rs 3,566 crore," the report adds.

Tracking the variations in the budget estimates projected at different stages, the report goes on to cite excerpts from statements made by politicians in the Lok Sabha. The report states that on May 7, 2003 the minister of youth affairs and sports, Vikram Verma, said, "The details of requirement of funds and its sources can only be worked out once the Games are allotted to India."

It goes on to quote the minister's reply later in December 2003 in Lok Sabha stating that as per IOA estimates, the likely expenditure on the conduct of the Games was Rs 399.05 crore. This did not include the cost of construction of Games Village (estimated at Rs 186 crore) and an estimated expenditure of Rs 32.5 crore for construction of an outdoor and indoor stadium at the Yamuna Sports complex and upgradation of existing infrastructure under the DDA.

In May-June 2006, it was reported that cost of the Games had escalated to Rs 500 crore. In July 2006, union minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, Mani Shankar Aiyar, came out with his own projections. He said the Games would cost Rs 7000 crore but adding that no more than Rs 2000 crore should actually be spent on the event.

Moving to the current official estimate, the report quotes CWG director general V K Verma, who said on March 24 this year that the entire expenditure would come to Rs 10,000 crore.

Different official explanations have been offered for the spiralling estimates. "Escalating costs on several items including infrastructure, accommodation, catering, opening and closing ceremonies, Queen's baton relay, rent for office of the organizing committee, communications, technology, risk management-insurance, volunteers and technical conduct of sports are the reasons given...," the report says.

It concludes that the budgetary commitment to the Games was apparently made without a detailed analysis. Citing the financial crunch that the Delhi government claims to be facing and the cost of living going up with rising land prices and more taxes being imposed on Delhiites to generate resources for the next financial year, the report states that the expenses on CWG are likely to result in a "severe financial legacy".

"Whether India can really afford such a wasteful extravaganza," is what the report seeks to know from the Centre and the state.

Roads get a blue coat for Games traffic plan rollout

Starting next month, the traffic police is planning to start dry runs of the traffic management plan for Commonwealth Games. In phases, one lane of road space on all roads leading to Games venues, Commonwealth Games village, and the airport, will be blocked for normal traffic. The civic agencies have started marking out the lane in blue on several roads, and once the markings are complete, the dry runs will commence.

With the sole solution to Delhi’s traffic mess — the Intelligent Traffic Signals (ITS) project — missing the September deadline, the traffic police plans to hold trial runs of the traffic management plan which has been prepared for the Commonwealth Games. During the 12-day period starting October 3, normal traffic will not be allowed to use a pre-marked lane on selected roads. All cars, buses, etc, ferrying athletes, delegates, will use the dedicated lane, being called the Games lane. The traffic police plan to impose a heavy penalty on normal vehicles which trespass into this space.

Senior officials revealed the lanes will not be blocked off round the clock. But a schedule will be prepared and each time there is an event in the vicinity, or on days of the opening and closing ceremonies, the space will be reserved for Games traffic.

In order to sensitize Delhiites about the lane segregation, and also see its impact on movement of traffic in
the city, the cops are going to start enforcing segregation of Games lane on select roads starting next month. ‘‘Games lanes on all the roads are not going to be blocked at once. We plan to take up stretches and enforce lane discipline to see how it works and also sensitize drivers. The first dry runs will start in June and several rounds will be carried out in the next few months,’’ said Ajay Chadha, special commissioner of police (traffic).

To start with, the dry runs will be held on Sundays and holidays, when traffic is thin. But later, these will be tried out even on working days to see the impact of flow of traffic, as the volumes are very high on Delhi roads.

The Games lane will be marked using blue paint along with the Commonwealth Games logo on the affected roads. The process of marking has already begun and the cops are reportedly waiting for this process of physical marking to complete to start the trials.

England will cope with busy schedule ahead of Commonwealth Games, says Danny Kerry

Mindful of the schedule the England women’s squad are up against in the coming months, head coach Danny Kerry has said his team’s well-being between now and October is at the forefront of his and his backroom staff’s minds.

Between July and October Kerry’s squad will take part in the Champions Trophy in Nottingham, the World Cup in Argentina with their schedule concluding at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October.

But Kerry has confidence that the plans in place to ensure his players avoid burn-out and are in the best possible condition to contest the three tournaments will prove successful.

“There’s no doubting it’s a heavy schedule and we’re pretty mindful of that,” he said following Great Britain’s 2-0 overall test series win against world No 4 Germany this week.

“After the Champions Trophy we have a two week recovery break where the girls will do light work but won’t be on the pitch. Then we have a two-week run in going into the World Cup and they can go away completely and between the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games they get a similar break.”

England will not only have the worry of exhaustion on their minds but also the question of acclimatisation with temperatures in Argentina likely to be around 20 Celsius while at the Commonwealth Games they will have to adjust to temperatures ranging between 30-35.

The squad will head to Argentina nine days before the World Cup begins and will travel to Delhi a week before they get their Commonwealth Games campaign underway with a view to better their bronze medal of 2006.

“It was a real decision around rest and recovery versus acclimatisation but the other issue in Delhi is getting food poisoning so if you’re out there a long time it can be a problem,” he added.

“In light of that the plan is to get the recovery in and then head out seven days ahead. It’s enough time to get used to the climate and by then we’ll have played enough matches so won’t need too many practice games.”

Scholars debate on Commonwealth Games ''national pride''

Delhi may be slowly approaching the goal of becoming a ''world class city'' ahead of the Commonwealth Games 2010, but has the process actually benefited the Indian society at large, argued scholars here today. Questions have been raised on the various dimensions of the Games, especially the level of expenditure on a one-time sporting event and actual delivery of benefits to the masses. ''In the process of making the Games a successful event, multiple violations of human rights, constitutional rights, especially of marginalised sections, should not have been done,'' former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A P Shah said.

Referring to homelessness and deportation as a result of building infrastructure for the 12-day international event, Justice Shah said, ''People have become insensitive towards demolitions. It is expected that the people who are residing in slums and JJ clusters will just vanish if their shelters are demolished.'' Rehabilitation and proper housing was important, he added. Categorically speaking about begging in Delhi, Justice Shah said, ''To abolish begging, there are two goals -- nobody should beg and nobody should have to beg. It seems the city government has forgotten the second more significant aim.'' He quipped, ''The decision to deport beggars to their respective states is weird as Delhi is a city of migrants where almost 70 per cent of the population is from outside the city.'' Justice Shah was speaking while launching a report titled, ''The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth? Whose Commons?'' here.

The account, prepared by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), put forth many findings questioning the rationale for spending crores on the event, and outlined key general recommendations suggested to be done pre and post-event. The launch was followed by a panel discussion chaired by former United Nations Special Rapporteur Miloon Kothari, Professor of Economics in Jawaharlal Nehru University Amitabh Kundu, Director of Hazards Centre Dunu Roy and members of HLRN.

Mr Kothari stressed that the entire process of the Games was in contravention of India's Constitutional obligations and the excessive costs involved are hard to justify in a country with high levels of poverty, hunger, inequality, homelessness and malnutrition.

Solar energy to illuminate Talkatora stadium

The compound of Talkatora indoor stadium, upgraded by New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), will now be illuminated by solar energy, the civic body said today.

As an initiative of NDMC's ''Green and Clean Delhi'' for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games, 60 solar energy
lights have been installed by M/s Linkage Technologies Inc in the stadium's compound.

These lights are made of Light Emitting Diode (LED) chip which consume minimum energy, an NDMC spokesperson said.

He shared that 600 watts of LED lights provided more illumination than 400 watts of sodium vapour lamps.

The average lifetime of each LED light, requiring little maintenance, is 50,000 hours.

After sunset these lights would illuminate automatically and after sunrise get switched off.

''This effort is a step to protect environment and conserve energy,'' the spokesperson added.

Talkatora stadium has been selected as competition venue for boxing.

Five New Players on Commonwealth Rugby Team

Rugby Cranes 7s coach John Musoke has named five uncapped players in his provisional squad for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India later this year.

Among them is Entebbe Mongers' eighth man Andrew Olweny who is finally being rewarded for his stellar performance in other Nile Special Rugby Premier League over the past two seasons.

ock Ambrose Kakuru, Olweny's teammate at Mongers, also made the grade as the team starts training this Sunday for the October games. Tobias Senkima (G4S Pirates), Lenny Kikonyogo, Ronald Mussajja and Francis Odong, all from Rhino, are the other new names on the team which will be trimmed to 12 before making the trip.

"My selection is based on experience, size and skill," Musoke told a media briefing in Lugogo yesterday. The players include; Joel Anguyo, Ambrose Kamanyire, Lawrence Wakabi, John Paul Semakula, Moses Soita, Timothy Ddumba, Dan Canowira. Michael Wokorach is also part of the 19.

Furnishings for CWG or food security?

EVEN AS AgriMatters had expressed its satisfaction with the increased allocations for the agriculture sector in the Union Budget, especially the flagship programme, the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), the joy was short lived. Hard as one may try, comparisons do creep in and the contrast glares one in the face. One component of the enhanced RKVY budget was a special component for enhancement of food production in the water surplus states of the eastern region. The finance minister stated in the Lok Sabha to ensure that the gains of the Green Revolution are extended to the eastern states which have an abundance of water, a special provision of Rs 400 crores had been set aside. As against this, the furnishings for the Commonwealth Games, villages are expected to be in excess of Rs 650 crores.

Thus, six major states of India will compete for four hundred crores to provide better seeds, water harvesting structures and soil testing facilities and other inputs that go directly to improve the food production needs of the country. This at a time, when the Cabinet has also cleared the Food Security Bill which gives every below poverty line (BPL) person the right to ask for 25 kilograms of wheat or rice at rupees three per kilogram from the PDS. This means that investments into agriculture will have to increase manifold to meet this commitment. Already the global markets are abuzz with projections of the additional requirement of wheat and rice that will be required to meet the commitments under the Food Security Bill, coupled with employment assurance under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). If the country can’t produce these quantities, the commodities will have to be procured from the global market place which will push up the costs, besides problems of logistics.

If this was not galling enough, the Union Cabinet has also announced an eight per cent increase in Dearness Allowance for Central government employees (which will be followed by similar demands by state government and municipal employees) makes special allocations for agriculture look miserly. However, not one newspaper in the country has pointed this anomaly, or made an editorial comment on how the primary sectors are being systematically discriminated against. This column has often argued that unless the sector gets at least 20 per cent of the annual budget of the Central and state governments (which is equal to its share in the GDP of the country), the sector can’t be expected to keep pace with manufacturing and industry. Why can't a comparison be made between the investments that have gone into manufacturing, services and agriculture- and the relative impact it has had on the increase in the GDP of these sectors? If money will be pumped into aviation, telecom, tourism and education, the sectors are bound to grow.

The New Delhi newspapers also carry a report that Mother Dairy has increased the prices of milk by one rupee per litre. This 4.5 per cent increase in the retail price of milk means that the farmers' price for milk may go up by just about three per cent. Thus compared to his counterpart in the organised sector, the farmer has gained by three per cent, while the government employee has gained by eight per cent. If we were to look at what the farmer was getting for his produce four years ago, one doesn’t see a secular increase of 35 per cent, which is what the government employee is getting, in addition to an annual increment of three per cent every year. Thus the employee is getting 45 per cent higher than what he got four years ago, in addition to housing, health, home travel, leave travel, gratuity, pension and special pay.

Let us get back to Commonwealth Games. Why should the government be spending its time, money and effort into the games when it has far more pressing priorities elsewhere? For the last few months, almost everything in New Delhi has been sacrificed at the altar of the games. The school examination and vacation schedules have been altered to suit the requirement of the games and almost everything is being geared to meet the requirements of the games. So many agencies of the Union and NCT government are now working 24x7 to ensure that the projects are completed. The only tangible long term impact of the games will be on real estate and infrastructure sectors. And at the end of the year, the economists will say that the share of agriculture has shrunk by another percentage point. Compared to the CWG, the Indian Premier League is perhaps better. The government has little to do with it and it is a purely commercial activity, with its component of fun and games, Bollywood stars and cheer leaders. Even though this columnist is not an IPL enthusiast, he would compliment the organisers for giving the viewers full value for their money. There are no compulsions involved and the government is not directly involved in the management of the games.

How does one conclude? By stating that rather than create and improve urban infrastructure, public investment should be made to improve the capacities of the farmer to draw more from water and soil by improving the infrastructure in the countryside for production and testing of seeds, fertilisers and other essential ingredients. Why could these six hundred crores not be used for establishing soil testing laboratories and automated weather stations across the country to ensure that farmers have a better understanding of the fertilisers required for their crops and for reducing the risk due to aberrant weather conditions. All this becomes even more meaningful in the context of climate change and the imperatives of food security. If the villages do not prosper, the prosperity in urban islands will not be sustainable. In fact, it may well be counterproductive. The earlier this homily becomes part of the mainstream thinking, the better it would be.

back to top