Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A ‘Z’ eye in Delhi sky for Commonwealth Games

The government’s plan for a novel “Z” category security for the Commonwealth Games involves a lot of hot air — to both its critics and advocates.
A Zeppelin — a kind of rigid gas balloon — fitted out with a radar, cameras and other monitoring equipment is likely to float across Delhi’s skies during the October event to watch out for any hostile intrusion.

The Rs 74-crore balloon-airship or blimp can be a huge asset for Delhi even after the Games, security analyst Ajai Sahni said.

Its high-resolution cameras can keep an eye on every street and car, not only boosting police’s surveillance capabilities but also helping them clear or avert traffic snarls.

But Sahni sounded a caution, saying the Zeppelin would only provide data and its effectiveness would depend on “what kind of monitoring capabilities the police develop”.

A European company is building the Zeppelin to the Indian government’s specifications, sources said.

They said the blimp can be placed at a very high altitude, out of the reach of any possible saboteurs on the ground.

The airship, made up of a rigid metal skeleton and airbags, has had a proud military and surveillance record since it was pioneered by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin of Germany a century ago. During World War I, the Germans used it extensively on bombing and spying missions.

The Games organising committee will also use the Zeppelin as an advertising organ, like the blimp of a tyre company that hovered over stadiums during this year’s Indian Premier League matches, Delhi government sources said.

Sahni said the price of the Zeppelin would be only “a fraction” of the overall cost of maintaining it.

The police will need to set up a “state-of-the-art control room with advanced capabilities” for its effective use, he said.

The costs involved have prompted some critics to ask whether the government shouldn’t be more concerned about inflated prices than inflated airships.

Even some in the Congress, such as former sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, think too much money is being wasted on the Games at a time spiralling prices are strangling a poor country.

“The Zeppelin’s cost equals that of 1.3 crore litres of petrol or 7,400 tonnes of dal,” a government official said half-jokingly with yesterday’s price-rise bandh in mind.

Government sources said Rs 74 crore wasn’t all that huge a sum considering the overall Rs 15,000 crore being spent on the Games.

The direct expenditure on the showpiece event is estimated to be Rs 11,493.83 crore, about half the budget allocation for the health ministry this fiscal.

The Delhi government is spending a further Rs 2,800 crore on “infrastructure development” ahead of the Games

CP subways fail Commonwealth Games deadline

Crossing the road at the busy Outer Circle of Connaught Place will remain a potential hazard for your life, even during the Commonwealth Games, for which the commercial centre is being beautified. The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) said only three of the nine subways in CP will be ready for the Games.
The remaining six may take up to a year more. Earlier, NDMC had promised to take just eight months to renovate CP’s five subways and build four new ones. Now, only subways at Janpath, Baba Kharak Singh Marg and Super Bazaar will be ready by August-end.

“The four new subways we were planning won’t be ready for the Games. But we will try to finish work on the existing ones, which are being renovated. But they will be opened without escalators and CCTVs,” Anand Tiwari, NDMC spokes-man, told Hindustan Times.

"We wanted to complete the construction of subways before the Games but removing and relocating the underground services is proving to be a huge task. There are trunk sewers and many other cables that have to be removed."

For the Games, NDMC had planned eight new subways in Outer Circle. But the traffic police gave permission for only four -- two at Panchkuian Road and two at Barakhamba Road.

Although officially the NDMC claimed it would finish renovation of all five existing subways, those handling the projects said only three would be ready for the Games,

"The subways at Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Super Bazaar and Janpath will be ready by the end of the month but without the escalators. But subways at KG Marg and Sansad Marg are likely to miss the deadline," said an official who did not wish to be named.

The NDMC started digging half the carriageway of Outer Circle in December. From January onwards, traffic movement was restricted to a single lane and all subways shut. Taking note of the huge traffic snarls, Lieutenant Governor Tejendra Khanna ordered the NDMC to build just four of the eight subways planned. But since the subways remained shut, crossing the busy road continues to be a nightmare.

Being the central business district and one of Delhi's biggest markets, CP gets a huge number of shoppers and office-goers. The Rajiv Chowk Metro station, in the middle of CP, sees a daily footfall of 3.5 lakh passengers. "Even if half of them don't catch another train and step out, CP should be getting at least 1.75 lakh pedestrians," said a showroom owner.

The New Delhi Traders Association (NDTA) said NDMC was being over-ambitious by undertaking construction of the new and existing subways simultaneously. "The shopkeepers suffered huge losses due to the construction and now they are saying work will not be complete. If they are not going to install escalators, why did they break down the existing subways? The idea of renovating them was to put these things. Otherwise, they were fine the way they were," said Atul Bahrgava, president, NDTA.  

Queen’s Baton Relay enters Uttarakhand from Himachal

The Queen’s Baton Relay for the 2010 Commonwealth Games entered Uttarakhand Tuesday after a three-day trip through Himachal Pradesh, an organiser said.

‘Hundreds of schoolchildren, sportspersons and people gathered at Paonta Sahib (the last Himachal Pradesh town it passed through) despite heavy rains to bid farewell to the baton,’ state youth services and sports director J.R. Katwal told IANS.

The baton, which entered the state July 4 at Mehatpur town in Una district Sunday, covered a 560-km journey through Kangra, Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Shimla, Solan and Sirmaur districts.

International and national players like Sita Gosain (hockey), Samresh Jung (shooting) and volleyball players Aruna Tomar and Gulshan accompanied the baton in its final leg in the state.

The baton has travelled nearly 170,000 km through nearly 70 Commonwealth countries before arriving in India for the Games scheduled Oct 3-14 in New Delhi.

Pakistan’s Olympic Association chief Syed Arif Hassan handed over the baton to Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Suresh Kalmadi, who is also chairman of the organising committee of the 2010 Games, at Attari border in Punjab June 25.

By the end of its journey, the baton would have travelled over 190,000 km through different modes of transport across land, air and sea in 340 days. This will make the 2010 baton relay one of the longest in the history of the Commonwealth Games.

The 2010 Commonwealth Games is the biggest sporting extravaganza being hosted by India since the 1982 Asian Games held in New Delhi.

Games Siren For Foreign Delegates, Confirm Participation Or Face Room Crunch, Officials Told

The Games organisers have given foreign delegates from the Commonwealth nations time till August 1 to confirm their participation in the event, now barely three months away.

If the delegates do not confirm their visit by then, the hundreds of rooms reserved for them by the organisers in fiveand four-star hotels will not be available anymore.

That could lead to an accommodation crunch.

The hotels would "unblock" the rooms whose reservations are not confirmed by the Organising Committee (OC) by August 1. "We have told the delegates to finalise their participation details and inform us as early as possible. We need to make the arrangements at our end well in advance," said Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the Organising Committee.

The organisers were supposed to confirm the accommodation at the hotels 90 days ahead of the Games, but due to lack of bookings from foreign delegates, the OC sought more time from the hotels.

"Hotels gave us time up till 60 days before the D-day to confirm the bookings," T.S. Darbari, Joint Director General of Organising Committee told a gathering of High Commissioners and senior officials of the High Commissions of 11 Commonwealth nations on Monday.

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