Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MCD's Rs 650cr HQ springs a leak in rain

MCD stands exposed, again. After being caught on the wrong foot last week when it took media for a review of its Commonwealth Games projects, the civic body was embarrassed again on Tuesday during an inspection tour of the recently-inaugurated swanky civic centre.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi's new headquarters the 28-storey Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Civic Centre resembled a towering mess during an inspection tour by leader of opposition in MCD house, J K Sharma, and other Congress councillors. Parts of the ground floor and basement of the building constructed at a cost of Rs 650 crore were under knee-deep water. The roof too was leaking. No wonder, Tuesday's downpour seems to have washed away all the claims of MCD political brass of shifting the civic body office to the new address by August.

Claiming that sub-standard construction work had led to the situation, Sharma demanded a CBI probe and blacklisting and stopping of payment to the Malaysian contractor responsible for the project. Sharma said: "The project deadline has been extended several times. The progress of the civic centre after the inauguration is absolutely nil. The building was supposed to have a separate sewerage and water treatment plant for clearing water. I am glad that it rained and exposed the lies.''

Water was seeping through walls and pipes in some blocks and rainwater also gushed through the roof of the portico. Sharma said: "The ceilings have developed cracks and it seems that the entire building is about to fall.''

However, project officials and engineers said that ceilings leaked as the drain pipes got choked and waterlogging occurred as the building was still under construction.

"We have a rainwater harvesting well and pumping stations. Water should be pumped out through drains but these are still being constructed. As a result, water accumulated,'' said chief project manager Sunil Tyagi.

On water gushing through the expansion joints the gap between floor decks for withholding weather or seismic impact on upper floors, Tyagi said: "The work of covering the joints is under process. We are identifying other problems and will rectify them soon.''

But Sharma was unrelenting and demanded action against supervising MCD officials. "The ruling-BJP had inaugurated the building in a haste but it's still not ready. I don't see it getting completed anytime soon,'' he said. But Tyagi said that all the work will be over in three to four months.

Mayor P R Sawhney said: "We will take necessary steps to resolve the problems, if any.'' MCD is yet to make arrangements for the maintenance, sanitation and house-keeping of the 28-storey structure. It is still busy securing the building and is yet to get a clearance from the fire department.

Fault detected in girder span on Metro's Badarpur line

At a time when Delhi Metro is rushing to complete its Phase-II projects before Commonwealth Games, it has been forced to go for replacement of a girder on the Central Secretariat-Badarpur line after it developed a technical fault.

DMRC officials said they noticed stalling (peeling off of the concrete cover) of one pre-cast segment of the 37-metre long segment girder between pillar numbers 74 and 75 on this line last Sunday. "We have already started the process to bring down the entire girder span and will replace it with an available 37-meter girder span. The replacement will take us eight to 10 days and it will not affect the opening of this corridor,'' claimed Kumar Keshav, director (projects) of Delhi Metro.

He assured there was no reason to worry since such stalling takes place when such girder spans are fixed using pre-stressing force. "Such incidents may happen because of imbalance in the pre-stressing force. We will take the damaged segment to the casting yard and a new one will be cast. All the segments will be used elsewhere and that will not have any adverse impact on the progress of work,'' Keshav said.

Playing down the incident, DMRC officials said that similar incidents have been reported three times before and the problem was fixed successfully. But experts said that such incidents occur for three reasons. "You apply only that much of pre-stressing force which the pre-cast concrete can take. If the pre-cast concrete can't take the pressure, it means either the concrete is weak or the matching of segments while placing them has not been proper,'' said a civil engineer engaged in similar work.

He added that if the agency constructing the stretch already has a similar segment girder available, it can fix the problem in less time. Kumar said they will use the segment girder, which has been built for a similar stretch beyond Badarpur. "That will not delay our work,'' he claimed.

No CWG stadium to be ready in time for handover

In August 1, the agencies constructing Commonwealth Games venues are supposed to hand over the finished stadia, Games Village and other sites to the Organizing Committee, which will then start crucial overlay work to ready these sites for the event. But come August 1 and what the OC will actually get is unfinished competition venues like the main stadium but also uncompleted accompanying projects like landscaping, approach roads and clearing of the debris.
In short, the handover will be mostly technical, with agencies like CPWD and DDA continuing to frantically finish the job after August 1 even as the OC begins its overlay work in tandem, official admit. How these two agencies will plan their work without getting into each other's way and whether there will be any time left for conducting trials is anybody's guess.

A senior DDA official admitted, "The finishing touches like landscaping and other work is going to continue after August 1."

Apart from finishing construction, most of the venues also need to tackle the huge amount of debris that still remains within the premises. While OC spokesperson Lalit Bhanot refused to comment on the matter, sources say the fact that most of the remaining construction work is for approach roads as well as landscaping is worrying. "Frankly, the debris is the least of our problems, since that can be cleared out soon. But landscaping and roads within the premises are important aspects that should ideally have been completed."

As per the venue owner agreements with the OC, the venues are all to be handed over on August 1 with the OC remaining in-charge of the premises till October 20. The idea was to give enough time to the OC for its overlay work -- basically putting up temporary structures needed to conduct the Games.

According to Lalit Bhanot, OC spokesperson, the majority of the overlay work is expected to take place outside the actual stadium. Said Bhanot, "From setting up tents to cabling and marking broadcast areas, all of this is part of the overlay work. Most of it will be outside the actual stadium."

At the Village, the slow pace of work prompted the L-G on Tuesday to visit the site again, so that more manpower is deployed to finish the work. Of the 34 towers that were to be furnished by the ITDC for the Games, only two has been completed. Officials claim the rest will be done after the hand over.

Meanwhile, the Yamuna sports complex still doesn't have a pedestrian movement plan, even though work here is pegged to be completed by July 31.

In fact, a number of venues are still to be completed -- both the main athletics stadium as well as the weightlifting stadium at Jawaharlal Nehru complex, the SP Mukherjee swimming pool complex, the Siri Fort and Yamuna sports complex as well as the Commonwealth Games Village. This is as per an internal report of the ministry of sports and youth affairs.

Agencies claim the work left is "minimal". Said a senior official, "Only the finishing touches are left. It can be done alongside OC's overlay work." That's a statement that may ring false considering venues like JN's weightlifting stadium is still getting a roof or the SP Mukherjee swimming pool complex, which is still to be completed.

Delhi games volunteers raring to go

A staggering 30,000 volunteers will provide critical support to the Commonwealth Games, which will be held in the Capital from October 3. After an exhaustive training programme, the volunteers are set to enter the final phase of grooming. Surprisingly, not just students but experienced  professionals have enlisted themselves and are brimming with confidence.

For 45-year-old Sudhir Gupta, volunteering is a “small” way of contributing to the country’s efforts of projecting itself as a sporting giant.

“I have a steady job and an established family. It was a conscious decision to not be a mute spectator but take part in this momentous event,” he said.

Gupta was part of close to 600 volunteers who congregated at the Amity University on Tuesday. Under the training meet, former India captain Kapil Dev and football commentator Novi Kapadia, explained on what to expect during the Games.

“Every volunteer should ensure that our culture is exhibited in the truest of spirit. The success or failure of the Games depends on its volunteers who should work selflessly during the entire duration of the Games,” said Kapil.

Kapadia stressed on professionalism. “Be clear, be friendly but most of all, be professional. Work assigned should be done immediately and with precision,” he said while giving examples of the good work done by volunteers during the Soccer World Cup in South Africa.

India raids fund for poor to pay for Commonwealth Games

Out of control spending on the forthcoming Commonwealth Games has seen tens of millions of dollars siphoned off from funds earmarked for social projects to help India’s Dalits, or untouchables, according to documents obtained by a non-governmental organisation.

The Delhi State Government should have set aside the money to build healthcare facilities and schools for the city’s three million Dalits, who occupy the lowest rungs of the Hindu caste system.

The funds were set aside to end the practice of manual scavenging – clearing human waste from waterless toilets by hand – a job many Dalits still perform.

But over the past four years, authorities spent 7.4 billion rupees (Dh580 million) of those funds on preparations for the October Games, according to government documents obtained by a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation under India’s powerful Right to Information Act.

The money was spent on the construction of two stadiums, beautifying the city, erecting street lighting and repairing major roads, according to the NGO, the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN).

It was also used to pay for a cultural show to welcome the Queen’s Baton, the Games’ version of the Olympic torch, to Delhi.

“This is criminal. We demand a full enquiry into who diverted these funds,” Miloon Kothari, the executive director of HLRN, said in an interview yesterday.

“Thousands of low-income families are being deprived of access to civic services and facilities as a result.”

He said the national planning commission, headed by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had repeatedly signed off on Delhi government budgets during the period despite the misuse of funds.

“The prime minister himself should explain how these games were paid for,” Mr Kothari said.

The prime minister’s office refused to comment on the allegations and the spokesperson for Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s chief minister, could not be reached.

“No doubt the Commonwealth Games is an expensive affair, but let me assure you that not a single welfare programme has been compromised,” Ms Dikshit said in an interview this month. The scandal is the latest to attach itself to the Commonwealth Games, which India had hoped would act as a coming-of-age party after two decades of economic growth – just as 2008 Beijing Olympics did for China.

Last September, the slow pace of construction at many of the sporting venues led the head of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Mike Fennell, to warn that the Delhi might fall short of the standard set at past Games, or worse, that it would “fail from an operational perspective”.

This year, a panel set up by an Indian court reported that migrant workers at Games construction sites were living and working in “rock-bottom” conditions with unsafe equipment, without access to proper accommodations or medical facilities, and were paid less than the minimum wage.

The report also noted allegations that 43 workers had died in construction projects, compared with six reported deaths during preparations for the Beijing Olympics.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, who heads the Commonwealth, has said she will not be able to attend the Games, the first time she has failed to attend in 44 years.

Several top athletes, such as the Olympic sprinting champion Usain Bolt, citing injuries or clashes with other commitments, have also said they will be absent.

“The stadiums we have built are world class, but it is sad that some of the leading sportspersons are not coming to Delhi,” the sports minister, MS Gill, said at a press conference this week.

“The star athletes pulling out from the Games does not please me or the Organising Committee.”

Another issue is the explosion in the Games’s cost since India bid for them in 2003, causing many to question whether a country that is home to one third of the world’s poor should be hosting such a large-scale sporting event at all. Initially, the government said the cost would be 18.9bn rupees. Today, however, the official figure is 100bn rupees, though independent experts calculate it to be closer 300bn rupees, roughly equal to one third of the amount the Indian government spent on health care last year.

Neither figure includes the cost of Delhi’s new international airport, which opened this month, or the extension of the metro, key elements in the city’s plans to host the event.

Even without them, the Delhi Commonwealth Games are to be the most expensive to date, costing six times more than the last Games, in Melbourne in 2006.

“There is no justification for spending that amount of money when a large part of the population still lack the basics such as food and shelter,” Mr Kothari said.

“We are told it is a matter of national prestige, but if we could show we could end poverty that would be a real source of pride.”

In March, Delhi residents were told they would have to help foot the bill for the Games when taxes on petrol, cooking gas, ghee, fertilisers, wood, cooking utensils, tea, coffee and alcohol all rose sharply.

Last week it emerged that the government had asked large state-run enterprises, including the Indian Cricket Board, to sponsor the Games because there are not enough private sponsors.

Yet, none of this is dampening the rhetoric of the Indian organisers who claim that much like Indian weddings the entire event will pull together at the last minute.

“It will be the best Commonwealth Games ever,” said Suresh Kalmadi, the chairman of the Organising Committee in Delhi.

“We know what we need to do to be ready. These things always happen before such mega events and there is no reason for panic. It is our promise that the Commonwealth Games 2010 will be a success.”

IBF reshuffles CWG core group

An impressive performance at the recently concluded senior national championships has seen Vikas Krishan (60kg) become one of 17 new members in the core group of Indian boxers for the Commonwealth Games. However, the list also has nine boxers dropped after being unimpressive in training.

The 18-year-old Haryana boy and World Youth champion Vikas had upset Olympian Diwakar Prasad and former international medalist Rakesh Kalaskar on his way to a maiden gold in the Nationals. National coach GS Sandhu called him the find of the tournament. “He has shown the potential to be a top-class boxer. His movement is swift in the ring and he can go from attack to defence in very quick time. Let’s see how he shapes up,” Sandhu said.

All set to participate in next month’s Youth Olympics in Singapore, Vikas has been drafted in even as Kalaskar has been dropped from the Patiala camp. The total number of boxers in the core groups has now gone up to 48, even though the Sports Authority has cleared only 41 names. The IBF is confident of getting the rest cleared soon.

Former Commonwealth championship bronze medalist Dilbag Singh Thakran (69kg), who quit amateur boxing a couple of years ago pursue his professional ambitions, has also been included in the camp. Dilbag made his way back after securing a silver at this year’s Nationals, having conceded the final due to injury.

Also among those awaiting SAI’s clearance to join the camp include ex-national champion Sanjay Kolte (49kg) and former world cadet champion Balbir Singh, who upset Suranjoy Singh in the fly weight (52kg) division. Former world cadet champion Vipin Kumar (49kg), who won a silver at the Nationals has also made the cut.

Stars stay
Although the IBF had made participation in the Nationals compulsory, failing which it threatened to bar boxers from the Commonwealth Games trials, stars like Olympic bronze medalist Vijender Singh (75kg), Commonwealth Games gold medalist Akhil Kumar (56kg) and Asian bronze medalist Jitender Kumar (56kg) still sat out with injuries. They have however still kept their place in the squad. The trials for the Commonwealth Games are expected to be held here in the later half of next month.

Wanted: 3,000 drivers; Pay: double than usual

The Commonwealth Games organisers are on a massive hunt for drivers. They immediately need 3,000 of them who know Delhi like the back of their hand and also understand foreign accents. The Games Organising Committee (OC) will have around 2,000 cars at their disposal, thanks to Tata Motors, but they
are facing acute shortage of chauffeurs.

The fleet of cars, which include Indigo Excel, Grande and Safari, will ferry athletes and Games officials from airport to hotels and venues.

Though the job of recruiting drivers have been entrusted to Tata Motors, OC has also pitched in with less than three months left for the event.

“The vehicle providers will bring their own drivers but we are facilitating the process,” said OC Secretary General Lalit Bhanot. “We are also trying to bring drivers from different sources. We have identified a large number of drivers and are interviewing them at present.”

Bhanot said that the drivers were expected to know all major roads and routes in Delhi.

“We will require about 3,000 drivers to work in different shifts and also in reserve,” he said.

To lure and retain drivers for the short period of about two months, they will be offered double salaries.

Sources said that while drivers are usually paid Rs 200 per day, those driving for the Games will be paid up to Rs 500.

“There is an acute shortage of drivers in Delhi as it is and we are talking to different sources to facilitate the recruitment of drivers,” said Anil Chhikara, who is in charge of the project.

Chhikara is a Motor Licensing Officer of Delhi Government’s Transport Department on deputation in the Committee.

“We will train the drivers in courteous behaviour and also give them accent training so they can understand what foreign dignitaries tell them,” he said.

Now, cops want Ramlila fairs to be rescheduled

The Delhi Police wants you safe during the Commonwealth Games (CWG), even if it means locking you away for two weeks. After asking popular markets and schools to remain shut during the Games citing ‘security reasons’, the city police now have Ramlila celebrations on the radar. “We are asking that
the fairs associated with the Ramlila be rescheduled. The fairs have no religious relevance and could be organised three or four days later,” Delhi Police Commissioner Y.S Dadwal told reporters at the Police Headquarters on Tuesday.

The Commonwealth Games that will be held in Delhi from October 3 to 14 will coincide with the annual Ramlila fairs organised throughout the capital around October 7.

Needless to say, organisers of the religious-cum-community events are fuming.

“How can the commissioner say the fairs associated with these events are irrelevant? The fairs are what draw the people to them,” said Subhash Goyal who organises Chandni Chowk’s popular Luv-Kush Ramlila.

Goyal argued that the fairs transform the religious nature of the event to that of a community festival.

“It is the fairs that draw the crowd, especially children, to the Ramlila.

A child may not be interested in reading the Ramayana, but once he or she gets drawn to the Ramlila by the rides or the good food he is automatically drawn to watch the larger than life enactment of the epic on stage, irrespective of religion,” Goyal said.

Commissioner Dadwal however, was of the opinion that the Games were of much more importance to the city.

“We are having an event of national importance and people are more worried about holding 'melas' (fairs),” he said.

The organisers said that the Games were important in their own right but incomparable to traditional celebrations that had their origins in history.

“The Games have their origin in the British Empire, which is new when compared with the history of our religion,” said Goyal.

Dheeraj Bansidhar, who organises the Dharmik Ramlila at the parade grounds, said, “We are yet to receive any intimation from the Delhi Police. How and why will they stop us from organising our Ramlila? We shall discuss the matter with Commissioner Dadwal himself,” he said.

Labour crunch hits Commonwealth Games work, too

The step-up in urgency on unfinished Commonwealth Games work has increased the cost of labour in Delhi, besides creating more labour shortages in the real estate and construction industry.

The labour shortage for the Games is about 20 per cent, according to Rakesh Mehta, chief secretary of the Delhi city government. He told Business Standard several projects are suffering due to this problem.

In addition, with the monsoon, labourers are returning to their villages to do farm work.

The industry says labour cost has gone up by 40-60 per cent in the past 18-odd months in the National Capital Region. “Labour costs have risen sharply, mainly due to steep inflation in food articles’ prices, and consequent revision in statutory minimum wages, and partly due to the time-bound nature of Commonwealth Games related works. Contractors are willing to offer more,” says Vineet Relie, COO of SARE- India, a Delhi-based real estate company.

Some believe the MGNREGA, the national rural jobs guarantee scheme, is also leading to a labour crunch in cities. “We are noticing now that people from villages do not have to come out to bigger cities because there are lots of infrastructure projects like power, roads, etc taking place within their vicinity,” says Santosh Rungta, President, Confederation of Real Estate Developers' Associations of India (Credai).

* C'Wealth Games rush adds to labour shortage
* Labour costs have been rising
* NREGA and like schemes provide options to labour migration
* There is a near-50% gap between demand and supply 
* Skill training and upgrades needs govt-industry combine
* Human and family needs of labourers also need addressing

No training structure
Industry representatives says there have been major delays in completion of ongoing projects due to this. “There has been a crunch in not only the skilled and unskilled labour in the real estate industry but also at the managerial level, because we are witnessing a lot of top management people moving to other industries like telecommunication, FMCG, pharmaceutical, etc. The problem with real estate is that we do not have any educational institute which trains people to be recruited in this industry,” says Anuj Puri, chairman and country head, Jones Lang Lasalle Meghraj.

The industry says since there is no institutional mechanism for artisanal skill training, there is a general shortage of skilled labour, due to general increase in construction volume, including the Games. The industry estimates the demand and supply gap at 40-50 per cent.

The crunch is not going to be resolved with Games work coming to a finish. As the metro and airport projects start in other parts of India, contractors would pull this labour (engaged in the games, metro and airport work in Delhi) to those cities, as this kind of infrastructure job needs highly skilled labour. “Thus there is a need to have government and industry funded training programs, a notch below Industrial Training Institutes, with faculty having topical training methods,” says Relie.

“Recent advances in technologies can be adopted to fill this gap. And, dependence on labourers can be reduced by adopting machine-made technologies. Also, developers need to adopt good practices to retain workers, like providing social security, food and creches to their children,” says Navin Raheja, MD, Raheja Developers.

As remedial measures, the industry is adopting less labour-intensive and more mechanised ways like using concrete pumps, batching plants and tower cranes. Laminated wooden floors are being used instead of conventional floor finishes. Similarly, labour-intensive items like external plaster and paint are being substituted by glass and aluminum composite panel facades. Some companies like Ashiana have developed in-house training programs. In addition, the industry is encouraging labourers to work in double shifts and training unskilled ones to become skilled.

Presently, India employs 33 million labourers in the infrastructure and real estate sectors and this number is expected to touch 85 million in the next 10 years. Industry representatives say some clear steps need to be taken to battle the crunch. Harmit Chawla, VP, sales and marketing, Paras Buildtech Ltd, says, “There is a need to create vocational training institutions at the grassroot level for various trades.”

“Labours should be encouraged to visit bigger cities, by providing their families with facilities like schools, colleges, medical amenities. Today, the agricultural income in smaller villages has increased and this stops people from visiting bigger cities for labour jobs. Moreover, there are a lot of labourers who prefer going to the Middle East countries, as they get well paid there,” says Rungta.

Recently, Credai started a pilot project in Pune, where a mobile van helps in training villagers about the technical know-how of being a labourer. It hopes to extend this to more cities in the coming months.

Queen's Baton Relay arrives in Guwahati

Braving inclement weather, the residents of Guwahati turned out in large number to receive the Queen's Baton, on the country-wide relay of the 2010 Commonwealth Games at Delhi.

The Baton, arrived at Guhawati this afternoon, and was received ceremonially by Assam Olympic Association general secretary and forest minister Rockybul Hussain at a brief function held at the Nehru Stadium here.

The Baton was then handed over to the state chief secretary NK Das and director general of police Shankar Barua who in turn handed it over to several veteran and present international and national players from the state before it was carried in a convoy to the state secretariat at Dispur.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi received the Baton at the state secretariat, and after a brief felicitation of players from the state, the baton was handed over to Arjuna awardee table tennis player Monalisa Barua Mehta.

Mehta resumed the last leg of the rally here to the Srimanata Sankardeva Kalakshetra, the premier cultural hub of region, and was joined by Assam Director of Sports and Youth Welfare Sanjiv Gohain Boruah and Sports Authority of India's North East Director Subhas Basumatary enroute.

A colourful cultural function and fireworks display were held at Kalakshetra before the Baton was handed over by Assam sports minister Bharat Narah to the Chef de Mission of the Indian Commonwealth team, Rajya Sabha MP Bhubaneswar Kalita and Baton Relay director Colonel Kuldip Singh for its onward journey to the Meghalaya capital Shillong.

Commonwealth Games lays bare India's infrastructure woes

India aims the Commonwealth Games will be a showcase of its economic clout, but with less than three months to go, the world's third largest sporting event is instead laying bare its perennial infrastructure problems.

The Games, held every four years and grouping athletes from the 54-member Commonwealth of Nations, are intended to be India's answer to the Beijing 2008 Olympics, hailed as a success for its economic and political rival China.

But while China set out to wow the world with iconic structures such as the Bird's Nest stadium, many Commonwealth Games venues in New Delhi are far from finished while others are falling apart under the force of a few weeks of monsoon rains.

A shooting range built for the Games, and inaugurated two months ago, was extensively damaged by heavy rains earlier this month, Indian media reported. At another complex, rains felled the false ceiling and other venues have sprung leaks.

Shoddy construction is one of the challenges Asia's third-biggest economy faces as it gears up to take on big-ticket projects needed to propel growth to China's double-digit rates.

Analysts say one of the main problems is a government practice of awarding contracts -- regardless of their size -- to the lowest bidders, which are often smaller, more aggressive, but less experienced construction firms which also lack the manpower needed to implement such projects.

Contractors also sometimes take short-cuts when they're running over budget or running out of time.

This often translates into sub-standard structures, and this is a problem that would remain even if the oft-cited difficulties of getting land and necessary bureaucratic clearances are solved.

"Quality, yes, there is a serious issue in India. Developers are stretched and a lot of sub-contacting is happening," said Nandita Vohra, a senior consultant to the Asian Development Bank.

"Two or three levels down, one feels the supervision is not as intense as it is needed."


India expects to spend $1 trillion, a sum roughly the size of its GDP, between 2012 and 2017 to boost its infrastructure. This is double of what it will spend in the five years to 2012.

Some of this spending has been fast-tracked due to the Games: in addition to venues, a new airport terminal is due to open this month and new subways and roads are being built specifically for the athletes and the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected.

New Delhi is also going through a makeover, with its colonial buildings being renovated and sidewalks ripped out to be repaved. Residents grumble about the chaos, pointing to rubble everywhere and roads that cave in due to underground tunnelling.

"The scale and ability of contractors is going to be a huge issue and a risk for projects," Arvind Mahajan, an infrastructure specialist at consultancy KPMG, told Reuters.

"Many of the bigger and key contractors are sold out, and cost factors, too, are pushing people to look at these smaller players. But if you push too much on cost, the quality would suffer, either in terms of execution or timelines not being adhered to," he added.

The infrastructure woes dogging the Games are not the first example of an Indian signature project going awry. Work on the Delhi Metro, a project backed by top officials, was delayed after an overhead bridge collapse in July 2009, killing five workers. A month later, strong winds blew off the roof of the new airport.

While the construction opportunities in India are huge and capital is plentiful, analysts rue there aren't enough large-scale, quality projects worth financing.

"There is a paucity of high quality, or even quality, projects that are financeable. It's not a question of capital being inadequate," Anil Ahuja, Asia head of private equity firm, told a recent conference as the audience nodded in approval.

Commonwealth Games: A stepping stone for the future

Our honourable sports minister has every reason to be disappointed, when he finds some of the top names missing from the Commonwealth Games list of participants. After all, the October Games will surely be the biggest sports event that India would host during his tenure. One can't blame him for wanting it to be a memorable one.

Not just the sports minister, every Indian would be disappointed at not finding a Usain Bolt or an Asafa Powell on the start list of the 100m. Wouldn't it have been great to have a Bolt-Powell collision in our very own New Delhi? There was always a chance that Powell would have pushed Bolt towards a world record. There are so many possibilities when two of the world's best sprinters face off.

However, before we let our disappointment set in, we must remember that the Commonwealth Games have never been a favourite among athletes. The third largest Games after the Olympics and the Asian Games does not rank anywhere near them in popularity.

Even if Bolt and Powell had decided to compete, it is unlikely that they would have come up with very good timings. The New Delhi Commonwealth Games will be held at the fag end of the calendar year and this is the time when athletes prefer to either preserve themselves, or rest and recuperate for the next season. With top athletes planning for the World Championships next year, Commonwealth Games was never a priority.

Donning the country colours is a matter of pride for every athlete and the Bolts and Powells might have missed an opportunity. However, they have done so at the highest level (the Olympic Games) and the CWG might not have been enough to inspire them.

Powell, incidentally is the defending champion in 100m sprint, having won in Melbourne with a time of 10.03s. Not too flattering by his standards. Incidentally, the 2006 Melbourne Games were held in March, a time of the year when athletes are gradually moving towards their peak form.

Surely, Bolt and Powell would be missed, as would British cyclists Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, tennis player Andy Murray and Jamaica's women's Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser.

Fraser, incidentally has failed a dope test and remains provisionally suspended.

Despite his disappointments, minister MS Gill might have a lot to look forward to. The standard of competitions will still be high. Some of the winners here would be faces for the future. And most importantly, India's capability to hold major international tournaments would be tested.

Gill might not go down in history as the sports minister who managed to bring the world's best sprinter to India, but his ministry will be remembered for playing a major role in shaping the country's future as a sporting nation.

Gill, and every one associated with sport, should look upon the Commonwealth Games as a stepping stone towards better things. If India manages to conduct a successful tournament, the world might just be convinced that the nation is ready to host the Olympics, or at least the Asian Games. So far, any talks on India bidding for the Olympic Games has appeared too farfetched. The Commonwealth Games might just change that perception. For that, everyone — from Gill downwards — has to be convinced that come October, we are poised to take a giant step forward in our quest towards become a respected sporting nation.

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