Thursday, August 5, 2010

CWG mess: Gill falls back on God, evokes nationalism

The government on Thursday came under attack from the Opposition and friendly quarters over the mounting allegations of corruption and delays in the preparations for the Commonwealth Games.

Sports minister MS Gill, who defended the government, tried a folksy track, comparing the game with an Indian wedding. “The bridegroom’s party is at the doorstep, we should go and welcome it, bring the party home.” The sports minister told members that all venues would be ready by the end of August.

However, the sports minister’s efforts to allay apprehensions proved to be in vain. Cornered, the government turned to God and nationalism as an answer to the issues of delays and alleged corrupt deals. “Have faith in India. India will get there....God is with us,” Mr Gill said as member after member questioned readiness to host the Games. The Commonwealth Games begin on October 3, and instead of ready-to-use stadia, city infrastructure in place, the country is regaled with a daily litany of alleged corruption, financial mismanagement and incomplete infrastructure. CPM’s Brinda Karat said the CWG had turned into a “game of corruption” and it was not “justifiable to give license to corruption for two more months in the name of conducting the CWG”.

As regards preparedness, the sports minister was unwilling to accept that the situation was as dire as it was being made out to be. “Most of the venues have already hosted test events without glitches. I have had a look at the stadiums, they are ready. Just the finishing work remains to be done,” Mr Gill said.

Members of Parliament were far from convinced. Former sports minister and senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar reiterated his demand for an oversight committee, akin to the one set up prior to the 1982 Asiad Games. A demand that found favour among member of the Opposition.

Mr Aiyar said that in 2005, the group of ministers had decided to establish a high-level apex committee to ensure full coordination between approximately, 30 agencies that are involved in the delivery of the Commonwealth Games. A suggestion that “bitterly opposed” by the agencies. “I plead that in view of the patent failure of the group of ministers to deliver an untainted and effective Games, could a high-level apex committee on the same lines as the special organising committee, which delivered the Asian Games in 1982, be constituted with none other than today’s Sardar, Dr M S Gill just like Sardar Buta Singh, to chair that committee? And if, as in 1982, backbenchers’ assistance is required, there are many backbenchers here who are willing to serve under Dr M S Gill,” Mr Aiyar said.

The idea was rejected by Mr Gill. “Mr Aiyar has vast international experience but I also have my administrative judgement. If more committees could solve the problem of the country, we could have 10 more, but that is not a solution,” he said.

The government made it clear that it was unwilling to divest Suresh Kalmadi of his charge as the chairman of the organising committee of the Games. Arguing that it was too late in the day to “change horses”. Clearly pushed to a corner the sports minister chose to hit back at his predecessor. “For the first five years no work was done. In later years work has been done. We have completed the work. I am saying that in some cases there is some rubble lying around. Even if you build your house in six months, your wife has to keep calling people to get things in tip top condition. From now on SAI officials will sit night and day and see that things are in tip top condition,” the minister assured.

Corruption was another cause of concern. Regarding alleged corruption in CWG, Mr Gill said his ministry had written to various ministries, including the external affairs and finance ministries, to take action on persons found guilty of misappropriating funds.

No monitor for Commonwealth Games

The Centre today ruled out setting up an apex committee to oversee the scandal-ridden Commonwealth Games but assured Parliament it would look into the corruption charges.

Sports minister M.S. Gill rejected a demand from MP Mani Shankar Aiyar for a high-level committee like the one set up for the 1982 Asian Games, saying “these committees serve nothing”.

“With some administrative knowledge of the past that I had, I can say that if more committees could solve things in this country, please have 10 more,” Gill said. He added that a group of ministers was monitoring the progress of the Games preparations.

Urban development minister Jaipal Reddy said there were legal difficulties in appointing an apex body above the organising committee.

“The only organisation which can do it (supervise the Games) is the organising committee in India which entered into an agreement with the Commonwealth Association (Federation). Therefore, the government is not competent to tamper with it,” Reddy said.

The organising committee’s executive board today terminated the controversial contract with Australian firm Sports Marketing and Management (SMAM) for “non performance”.

The company had been hired to raise sponsorships for the Games. Committee secretary-general Lalit Bhanot said the executive board had sought legal opinion before deciding to scrap the contract.

“The executive committee terminated the services of (the company) with immediate effect on the ground of non-performance after giving notice.… We had fixed $122 million to be brought by June 30 but they failed. This is the reason for the termination. Legal opinion says we can terminate (the contract) on a three-day notice.”

Bhanot claimed “not even one rupee has been paid to SMAM” but forgot to mention that the committee had hired and paid the company for raising sponsorships for the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune.

All the decisions were taken at an emergency meeting of the executive board, the committee’s top decision-making body, after it received the report of the three-member internal probe panel that Suresh Kalmadi had formed on Tuesday. The board rejected the allegations of over-billing in the purchase/renting of umbrellas, air-conditioners, treadmills and the like.

Bhanot said the board would ask the Central Vigilance Commission — which had exposed the corruption and the substandard construction related to Games projects — and the central public works department “to verify the quality and quantity of the work”.

Gill told the Rajya Sabha his ministry had rejected the proposal by the Kalmadi-headed Indian Olympic Association to bid for the 2019 Asian Games. He said the ministry did not agree with the financial projections submitted by the association based on the 2010 Guangzhou Asiad, which “have little relevance in the context of hosting the Games in India in 2019”.

Gill said that if at all India bid for the 2019 Asiad, the Centre would have to decide if Delhi or another city would host it. He cited how South Korea was hosting Asiads away from its capital to develop smaller cities (Busan in 2002, Incheon in 2014).

As for the Commonwealth Games, Gill said all the 13 major stadiums were ready. “Have faith in India, India will get there.... God is with us.”

Security tightened at Kalmadi's house

The city police have provided additional security at the residence of Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi following protests against him by political parties, who have demanded his resignation in the wake of alleged corruption in the organisation of Commonwealth Games.

Two officials and eight constables have been posted at his residence on Karve road, the police said. Barricades have also been put up on the roads approaching his residence. The police personnel have been jointly provided by the Deccan police and Zone I of the city police.

In the evening, over 250 members of the Shiv Sena took out a morcha towards Kalmadi's residence, but were stopped by the police. The party workers later held demonstrations on Karve road.

Earlier in the day, the BJP held demonstrations against Kalmadi at the Khandojibaba junction in Deccan.

Meanwhile, Congress leader Aba Bagul described the agitations by the BJP and the Shiv Sena as political stunts. Bagul alleged that these parties had tried to stall the development works during the Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) held in the city in October 2008.

In another related development, independent corporator Ujjwal Keskar has demanded the chief minister Ashok Chavan to initiate a CID probe into the expenditure worth crores of rupees incurred on city infrastructure projects carried out by the Pune Municipal Corporation during the CYG.

More manpower & machinery to complete CWG work

The government has deployed additional manpower and machinery to ensure completion of construction work at the Commonwealth Games venues, Minister of State of Sports Pratik Prakashbapu Patil said yesterday. Patil said in view of rain disrupting the work, additional labour and machinery have been pressed into service.

 “17 competition venues out of total 18 have been completed and the remaining one venue is in an advanced stage of completion. There have been some instances of delay for which recovery schedules were prepared and implemented.”

Delhi Games treasurer quits in corruption row

The treasurer of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games has resigned and three senior officials have been suspended amid allegations of corruption.

Anil Khanna, the treasurer of the organising committee, fell on his sword over an alleged conflict of interest.

Three other officials, TS Darbari, Sanjay Mohindroo and M Jeyachandran, have been suspended because of accusations of corruption in the Queen's Baton Relay.

The organisers have appointed their own investigation team to examine the latest allegations.

The international Commonwealth Games Federation is demanding a full report but the Indian government has rejected requests for an independent inquiry.

The Games are scheduled to open on October 3.

Goel demands Kalmadi's resignation

Leading a demonstration by the Citizen Forum for Commonwealth Games at Jantar Mantar here against alleged corruption in the Commonwealth Games preparations, former Union Minister Vijay Goel on Thursday demanded resignation, on moral grounds, of all the members of the Executive Board of the Organising Committee headed by Suresh Kalmadi.

Mr. Goel also pooh-poohed the manner in which only the joint director-general of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee T.S. Darbari and the head of the committee's finance and accounts wing M. Jeychandran were suspended on Thursday for their role in deals which had come under the scanner. “How can Mr. Kalmadi himself stay put at the helm of affairs when he is also accused in the whole case?'' he asked.

Claiming that he was the first person to raise the issue of corruption in the Games preparations, Mr. Goel said he had also raised the issue before the Organising Committee and at various public forums.

“Now one by one the shady deals are coming into the open,” he said, holding Union Sports Minister M.S. Gill and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit equally responsible for the “troubles and travails” related with corruption in Games preparations.

Stating that Mr. Kalmadi's continuation at the helm of the Organising Committee would harm the “good image of the country'', the BJP leader demanded that he be forced out of the post and replaced with a Minister. “When precedent had been set during Asian Games when Cabinet Minister Buta Singh was made in-charge of the Games then why was Mr. Kalmadi, who is not a Minister, was made president of the Executive Board?'' he asked.

The demonstrators had also carried with them a tableau depicting Mr. Kalmadi eating “Commonwealth Games money”.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, whose dummy was shown standing next to that of Mr. Kalmadi, and Union Sports Minister M. S. Gill were also criticised by Mr. Goel for leading to “this situation of chaos and plunder”.

CWG neck on the line, some heads roll

The Organising Committee (OC) of the Commonwealth Games today suspended two top officials and terminated its contract with the Australian sports marketing company Sports Marketing and Management (SMAM), which has failed to bring in sponsors for the Games.

OC Treasurer Anil Khanna resigned earlier in the day, following the publication of reports alleging that the contract for laying synthetic tennis courts for the Games had gone to a company of which his son is CEO.

In Parliament, Sports Minister M S Gill promised to take “all action” into the charges of corruption and mismanagement in the Games.

OC Joint Director-General (Revenue & Marketing) T S Darbari and Joint Director-General (Accounts and Finance) M Jeychandran were suspended after a three-member probe team submitted its report to the OC Executive Board. A third top official — whose sacking the government asked for earlier this month — Deputy Director-General Sanjay Mohindroo, resigned a few months ago.

“We have suspended these officals as they were responsible for the delivery and conduct of the Queen Baton’s Relay in London. We are handing over the case to the Enforcement Directorate for further investigation,” OC Secretary General Lalit Bhanot told a press conference here this evening. The OC’s under-fire Chairman Suresh Kalmadi skipped the press conference.

While Jeychandran handled the now-controversial finances of the Relay in London, Darbari has been under the scanner since January in connection with alleged irregularities in the import of jewellery into India, a case reported by The Indian Express on February 10.

A courier arrested by Kochi Customs on January 29 had on him a diamond ring worth Rs 28 lakh and an invoice in Darbari’s name. The official went on leave after publication of the report. He returned to work on April 7. On April 29, Kalmadi declined the Sports Ministry’s advice to sack him, asking Minister Gill to “kindly appreciate that since there is no case or charge against Darbari, the question of divesting him of charge in the OC does not arise”.

Jeychandran’s name figured prominently in the controversy around the Queens Baton Relay in London, for which an UK-based firm called A M Films was allegedly handed out large irregular payments. Jeychandran was one of the three signatories to the document accepting A M Films’s bid on October 23, 2009.

Jeychandran has not yet submitted a defence to the charges against him. “We will hear out his part tomorrow,” Bhanot said.

Bhanot also announced that the OC Executive Board had “decided to terminate SMAM’s contract with immediate effect following breach of contract, mainly their non-performance”. SMAM, Bhanot said, had failed to meet targets: “Till June 30th they were to get sponsorship worth $1,22,581.”

The OC had signed a deal with SMAM on July 25, 2007, making the company the “sole and exclusive negotiator and procurer of sponsonsorship for licensing contracts”. SMAM was guaranteed a commission of between 15% and 22.5% on all sponsorships, even on those that it did not bring.

On April 20, The Indian Express reported that SMAM had failed to get in any major sponsorships. The OC till now has Rs 342 crore from 10 sponsors, four of which — making up the bulk of the commitment — are PSUs.

Promises prove hollow as many projects fail to even take offseen

Many Commonwealth Games projects that MCD announced with much fanfare a year back have been scrapped now. These include parking projects, construction of 17 railway underbridges and overbridges and redevelopment of Chandni Chowk. The projects on which work did start are now running behind schedule.

The work on upgrading guesthouses and improving areas like Paharganj and Karol Bagh, construction of toilets and sanitation work are all behind schedule.

According to mayor P R Sawhney: "The facelift in Paharganj, Karol Bagh and Daryaganj was delayed because agencies like MTNL and BSES took time to complete their work. Waterlogging during rain was also a problem.'' Sources say MCD will be able to complete only 40% of the work in Karol Bagh and Daryaganj.

The civic body is also struggling with the streetscaping work at many places apparently quite unnecessary in many areas. For delays in beautification, it blames encroachment on roads. The civic body is spending Rs 40 crore on general streetscaping and another Rs 140 crore on beautifying stretches near the Games venues.

As far as construction of toilets go, only eight of MCD's ambitious toilet-cum-coffee houses will be constructed before the Games. The civic agency wanted to build around 250 such complexes. Also, only 200 of the 1,000 waterless urinals are ready so far. The cost of constructing these toilets is Rs 35 crore.

With many of MCD's project under the CVC scanner due to alleged corruption, the civic body is planning to launch its own vigilance probe. According to the CVC, the bid documents for the streetlight project were tampered with.

Said the mayor: "We will ask our vigilance department to investigate our projects to ensure that there are no instances of corruption.''

As far as sanitation is concerned, MCD is yet to install dustbins despite floating proposals for numerous designs. Moreover, the large underground dustbins which were supposed to replace dhalaos are yet to be procured by the civic agency.

MCD was supposed to construct a total of 46 parking lots conventional and multi-level of which only two or three will be ready before Games. The work on constructing 17 railway underbridges and overbridges is underway across the city but not even one is near completion.

CWG scam: 3 top officials suspended after UK money trail report

Commonwealth Games organizing committee treasurer Anil Khanna was forced to resign from his post on Thursday, the day TOI highlighted the blatant case of conflict of interest in which the contract for laying the artificial tennis turf was given to a company whose distributor in India is headed by his son.

The OC has terminated its contract with Australia-based marketing agency SMAM - which was given the job of bringing in sponsors for the Games - with immediate effect on the ground of "non-performance". Again, it was TOI which highlighted how SMAM was set to get 15-23% commission on money given by PSU sponsors, none of which were brought in by SMAM.

On a day when the OC appeared focussed on fixing blame, if only to lower the heat on chairman Suresh Kalmadi, it suspended his key aide and Games joint director general T S Darbari, whose name has figured in the case involving forged emails and inflated payoffs to the London-based AM Films. The other person whose name has come up in this scam, Sanjay Mahindroo, is no longer with the OC.

Surprisingly, another joint director general M Jeychandren was also suspended. Jeychandren was the treasurer for the Queen's Baton Relay (for which AM Films was paid off). His name has, however, not figured so far in the controversy. Some insiders say he has been made a scapegoat.

The case against Darbari and Jeychandren has been referred to the Enforcement Directorate by the OC, Games spokesman Lalit Bhanot told a crowded press conference. Kalmadi ducked the press meet, though it was said earlier that he would address it.

CWG: Heads roll to save big fish in clean-up ‘act’

The Suresh Kalmadi-led Organising Committee, which has been forced to cleanse the Commonwealth Games stables, on Thursday suspended joint director TS Darbari, former deputy director-general Sanjay Mahendroo, and head of the accounting department M Jeychandran. The executive board also terminated the contract of Melbourne-based Sports Marketing and Management (SMAM) for “non-performance”.
The names of Mr Darbari and Mr Mahendroo had figured in the investigations into the charges of irregularities in the services provided during the Queen’s Baton Relay in London.

These actions came on a day when the government was forced by the Opposition in Parliament to promise speedy investigation into the allegations of corruption. “As far as corruption is concerned, the government will take all actions. I will write to the authorities, including the finance minister, and request him to go seriously into the matter if there is anything... The agencies must speed up action and catch whoever is responsible,” sports minister MS Gill said.

With the Commonwealth Games under cloud and the government earning flak for mismanagement, the minister used the occasion to announce the denial of permission to the Kalmadi-led Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to bid for the 2019 Asian Games. “The IOA had on April 28 this year sought ‘in-principle’ approval to host the 2019 Asian Games. It has projected an operating budget of $401 million for the conduct of the games and likely generation of $450 million. These projections are based on the budget and revenues of the Guangzhou Asian Games 2010 and have little relevance in the context of hosting the games in India in 2019. Accordingly, the present proposal submitted by the IOA does not merit consideration,” the minister said.

But Mr Gill, who was replying to a barrage of questions from the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, ruled out the removal of Mr Kalmadi from the organising committee of CWG. “It is too late for that. You cannot change horses just before the war,” Mr Gill told the House. He also discounted the possibility of any decisive central intervention when he said the suggestions for a new committee to oversee the Games preparations were not feasible. “These things won’t work,” the minister said and assured that “like a typical Indian wedding, everything will be in place”. The minister also invoked nationalism—“have faith in India”—and the Almighty—“God is with us”—as the Opposition hauled the government over the coals in Parliament.

The Congress leadership, in any case, has been dropping clear hints that the time for juggling with the Games leadership has passed. “The horses have bolted into a distance,” a senior minister told ET while explaining that action against key members who are responsible for the leakage of funds may not be possible at this juncture.

By evening, there was some relief for the organisers when Hero Honda, one of the sponsors of the embattled Games, indicated it will stick with its commitment. PSU sponsors like Indian Railways and NTPC have asked for assurance from the OC that no part of its contribution will go as service charge or commission to any agency. NTPC had pledged a sponsorship donation of Rs 50 crore, but this money may not be paid if the OC doesn’t meet its demand. Apart from Hero Honda and NTPC, the other big cash sponsor for the Games is Central Bank of India. The Games have managed around Rs 400 crore in sponsorship of a target of Rs 960 crore. Of this, only around Rs 100 crore is cash sponsorship and the rest is in the form of either service-related brand endorsements or donations and grants from PSUs.

In another development, RK Mattoo was appointed as the new treasurer of the Organising Committee. Mr Mattoo's appointment follows the resignation of Anil Khanna. Mr Khanna quit as treasurer in wake of allegations that his son's firm secured the contract for laying synthetic courts at the RK Khanna Tennis Stadium, one of the venues of the October 3-14 Games.

Few bookings for Games hotel rooms yet

 It was expected to be a deluge, but so far, it’s just a trickle. Hotels in New Delhi which earmarked thousands of rooms for Commonwealth Games visitors are still waiting for the bookings. Delays in preparing Games venues, corruption charges and competitive mudslinging are seen to have taken the sheen out of Incredible India and frustrated the travel and hospitality industry, though Games officials put up a brave face. The 19th Commonwealth Games, an 11-day mega-sporting event, kicks off in the Capital less than two months from now.

Out of 5,500 hotel rooms earmarked by the Games travel office and sold on the CWG website, only 100 have been booked so far. “Bookings have been slow, but we are hopeful that more will start coming now. Most of the negative publicity around the games is in India; not in other countries,” says Sunil Kundu, games travel officer of the Organising Committee. Le Passage to India, the official travel agency refused to comment on the number of bookings.

Hoteliers are not happy either. “We committed rooms to the Organising Committee and reduced tariffs by 25-30% as requested by the government. But bookings have been negligible,” says Vijai Pande, president, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Northern India (HRANI). The association is an umbrella body of 1,500 hotels in North India, out of which 50% are located in the National Capital Region. “We developed a new hotel in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games; but looking at the current scenario, we wonder if it was the right business move,” said a hotelier on the condition of anonymity.

The initial buzz about Commonwealth Games attracting a deluge of sports and travel enthusiasts to the Capital has waned. Says Sharat Dhall, MD, Tripadvisor, a popular travel community site: “Bookings have not met projections. A mix of factors has worked against the travel sentiment. There are security concerns and some star athletes have pulled out. Besides, there is so much negative publicity regarding delays in completion of stadia and infrastructure projects. Many have been led to believe that the Games will not be spectacular after all.”

FE checked with some of the hotels which can be booked on the CWG travel website, which confirmed that not a single booking was made at any of them till now.

Claridges Surajkund, for instance, has committed 100 rooms but has not received any guest confirmation. Room rate does not seem to be a factor, as the trend of nil or negligible bookings is not restricted to the star category. A small budget hotel group with two properties – Sunstar Residency and Sunstar Heritage, located in the not-so-upmarket Karol Bagh area– and charging one-fourth of what Claridges does, has not received any Games-related bookings either.

“There are no bookings so far, but we are hopeful,” said the general manager of Sunstar Hotels.

Until recently, government officials and industry analysts were worried about the possibility of room shortage during the Games. Hospitality industry players from the private sector stepped into bridge the gap, and the ministry of tourism announced a Bed & Breakfast policy to increase room supply. According to industry estimates, around 12,300 hotel rooms have come up in Delhi and NCR in the run-up to the Games. “So much investment has gone into adding inventory. Several projects were floated keeping Commonwealth Games in mind. So, it’s all the more sad not to get substantial bookings,” said Pande of HRANI.

According to the tourism ministry, Delhi and NCR will have more than 40,000 rooms across hotels, guest houses and B&B outfits, enough to accommodate one lakh tourists expected during the Games. Whether they will turn up in the expected numbers will decide if the hospitality industry was wise enough to sink large investments into adding capacity to welcome the Games visitors.

Since 2009, 38 labourers died doing Games work

Senior officials in the Delhi government today revealed that 38 labourers working at different Commonwealth Games related projects have died during the construction process, while two were seriously injured.

Officials were, however, quick to point out that of the 38 who died, only one labourer was working on a project undertaken by the Public Works Department which falls under the direct purview of the Delhi government.

“All other deaths have taken place at construction sites under the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation,” said a government official. The 38 deaths took place from January 2009 till the present date.

Officials further added since there is a due process in place, compensation for all the deaths as well as the injuries has already been paid and there are no “pending complaints or cases”.

“The contractors pay the compensation amount and this is overseen by the compensation commissioners posted in nine districts across the city. Since criminal negligence is involved in the matter, and an FIR is registered, the contractors have duly and quickly expedited the process so there is no pending complaint,” said Delhi Labour Commissioner R K Srivastava.

Labourers who die in such work-related accidents are paid anything between Rs 2-5 lakh, depending on their age — a younger workman receives more compensation than old labourers.

Queen's Baton reaches Jharkhand

 The Queen's Baton Relay for the upcoming Commonwealth Games was given royal reception after it reached the Jharkhand border from West Bengal in Maithon on Wednesday aftrenoon. 

Jharkhand Olympic Association (JOA) general secretary Syed Matloob Hashmi received the baton from P N Mukherjee president of West Bengal Olympic Association, about 50 km away from Dhanbad.

With God on his side; Gill promises successful Games

Notwithstanding the huge controversy surrounding the rampant corruption in the Commonwealth Games 2010, Sports Minister MS Gill appeared confident of successfully holding the mega event.

In his reply to the Rajya Sabha Thursday, Gill did not risk a direct reply on the corruption charges, instead he apperead to be dodging an array of questions put up by the legislators.

He skillfully refused to set up an independent probe into the corruption allegations, while promising to punish of all those “found” guilty.

"Have faith in India. India will get there," Gill told opposition members led by Prakash Javdekar of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Brinda Karat of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) who raised the issue of delays and corrupt deals related to the CWG.

“If officials are found guilty, remove them,” Gill said. He opined that an independent probe into the allegations at this this juncture would be detrimental to the objective of holding a successful Delhi games as they just around the corner.

On being given details of all the allegations, he said, “There is a long procedure into the sanctioning of any expenditure for the event and it has been done with consent from all the concerned departments like the Finance Ministry and the Home Ministry.”

He also ruled out any bid for Asiad 2019 saying that the government did not have the proper documentation in the time frame given.

When he was pressed to give assurance that the Delhi Games would be a success and the venues would be completed in time, he left everything to the almighty saying, “God is with me, I will do what is needed for a successful Games.”

back to top