Sunday, August 8, 2010

Commonwealth Games: Queens Baton Relay reaches Orissa

The Queens Baton Relay (QBR), one of the greatest traditions of the Commonwealth Games, reaches the Orissa at Jamsola Gate on Sunday and scheduled to depart from here on August 11 .
The Queen’s Baton Relay (QBR) arrived at Baripada via Jamsola where it was received by the state Sports Minister Prabin Bhanjadeo, President of Orissa Olympics Association Sameer Dey and veteran hockey player Dilip Tirkey amid much fanfare today.

A large number of public, dignitaries and sports lovers were seen desperately waiting to have a glimpse of the QBR which entered Baripada at around 1 pm.

Odisha is the 18th State which receive the baton after its 44th day in the host country, which was launched by Queen Elizabeth II at the Buckingham Palace in London on October 29 in 2009, will travel 20,000 km in India for 100 days covering 400 cities and towns.

QBR enter the State at Jamsola Border at 12 o'clock. The Odisha Olympic Association has arranged a grand welcome and it will make a night stay at Baripada. It will start its journey to Cuttack on Monday morning; on the route it will touch Balasore at 8.15 am, Bhadrak 11.15 am and Jajpur 1.15 pm. OOA president and Cuttack District Athletic Association secretary and many more eminent people will receive the Baton at Chhatia 3.15 pm.

The OOA has arranged a grand welcome function at Barabati Stadium in the afternoon and the Barton to reach Kalinga Stadium in the evening and the night halt will be here on Monday. Before the departure on August 11, it will reach Puri and Konark at 9.45 am and 12.15 am respectively on Tuesday.

Over the years, the Queens Baton Relay has evolved into a powerful symbol of the unity and diversity of the Commonwealth nations. The Queen's Baton will travel through all the Commonwealth countries until it lands in India where it will spend 100 days touring the 28 States. It will then be taken to its final destination, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi for the opening ceremony of the XIX Commonwealth Games.

Why we shouldn’t be hosting the Games

We now know what the Commonwealth Games stand for. (It’s) Common (for everyone to make) Wealth (at these) Games. Toilet rolls for Rs4,000 each! Must be gold-laced. Treadmills at Rs27 lakh! The high end ones cost less than a tenth of that.

Whatever explanation Suresh Kalmadi and his cohorts have to offer for this kind of criminal folly, it’s clear that the Games have been run on two premises. First, the organisers were sure the government would keep on pouring more money since national prestige was involved. Second, the organisers were sure that no questions would be asked. Pity they forgot the media.

There are two questions that arise from the controversy. The first is basic: should India be hosting the Commonwealth Games (CWG) at all. The second is whether we are capable of handling an event of this magnitude.

It may be a bit late to raise the first question, but it can be asked because Kalmadi and the IOA have their sights on the Asian Games and the Olympics after that. The simple answer to the question is thus No. At least not for the next few decades. The basic argument for holding large sporting events is that you create infrastructure. Heaven knows we need infrastructure, but is all of it needed only in Delhi?

That’s the problem: suddenly Delhi will have a whole lot of stadia, but not the rest of India. If you wanted to build infrastructure, you would draw up a master plan and distribute facilities around the country taking into consideration the sports specialty of each region. Football stadia? Look at Bengal, Goa and Kerala. Which of them needs one urgently? Hockey? Punjab, Haryana. Archery? The North East. Wrestling? UP. And so on.

Planning systematically will be of real benefit to sportsmen. It also ensures that the construction is phased out, say over 10 years, rather than rushed through in two or three years. It means better buildings, not shoddy construction.

There is yet another point about infrastructure. The CWG will now cost the massive sum of Rs35,000crore. A master plan would use only a part of this total. It would earmark a portion for developing sportspersons. How often do we read about the lack of money for sporting academies (cricket always excepted)? How often have we heard complaints about the lack of good coaches because they are too expensive (cricket always excepted)?

The second question seems unpatriotic because it questions our ability to stage an event like the CWG. Why can’t we? After all, our industrialists set up massive infrastructure and manufacturing plants in record time, so organisation and planning aren’t foreign to our temperament.

The basic problem is with who’s in charge. An industrial house has an organisational structure built on well-designed hierarchies. Every person has a career at stake.

An Organising Committee like the one for the CWG is an ad hoc group of individuals who are either sports politicians or bureaucrats on temporary loan to committees. They have almost nothing at stake. Is it any surprise the nation’s money is being wasted?

Kalmadi was once very proud of his Grand Design for sports in India. It was to spread a sports culture through the country by building facilities in each state by holding our annual National Games at different venues each year. It was a sound idea worthy of implementation. How does holding of the CWG fit in with that vision?

New-look railway station at Paharganj side

After unveiling of the new building block at the Ajmeri Gate side of the New Delhi railway station, the much-neglected Paharganj side is now gearing up for a new look, hopefully in time for the Commonwealth Games in the Capital in October.

Apart from refurbishing the entrance porch and façade, work on resurfacing of the platforms, relaying of walls with granite and installing stainless steel staircase railings, pillars and benches is currently under way. Work on the construction of a new foot over-bridge to connect the platforms to the Paharganj side is also on along with improvements planned in traffic movement at the entrance.

According to Northern Railway Divisional Manager (Delhi) Ashwini Lohani, the idea is to give the station an improved look by not just upgrading the existing facilities but also introducing new features such as the new waiting hall replete with ticket counters and an eatery at the Paharganj side as part of the first-of-its-kind makeover of the station.

“The row of unreserved ticketing counters at the building entrance will now come inside this waiting hall. The parcel office which used to occupy this space has been shifted to the Ajmeri Gate side. This is expected to keep a majority of the waiting crowd at one place,” he added.

Commenting on the new look at the Paharganj side, Mr. Lohani said: “After completing the Ajmeri Gate side building, we decided to give the Paharganj side also a new look in line with the white façade of the Ajmeri Gate building. But unlike the material used there, we would be using white metal for the façade which would also include life-size glass windows. Installation of steel railings, benches and LCD screens has begun and we are expecting the new dustbins to arrive soon as well. Existing enquiry and information system would also be improved by provisioning of digital information systems,” he added.

For regulating the traffic at the entrance, a dedicated four-lane system is also being planned with separate lanes for cars, autos, taxis and through traffic to facilitate dropping off and picking of passengers.

In addition, a new multi-lot parking is also proposed to be built near the Paharganj bridge to supplement the existing parking space of 2,200 square metres at this side of the station. This would be taken up only after the Games, according to Mr. Lohani.

Even as the works seemed stuttering to a completion at the station premises, downplaying the fast approaching deadline and anticipated delay, railway officials expressed confidence of confining to a budget of under Rs.20 crore by mid-September.

Mr. Lohani said: “Though we cater to a daily footfall of 5.5 lakh passengers at the New Delhi railway station, we have to plan all improvements within a budget of under Rs.20 crore whereas the new international terminal T3 at the Delhi airport, which probably caters to only about 5,000 daily footfalls, has been built at a cost of about Rs.9,000 crore.”

Sponsors to OC: Promise to use funds properly

Following threats by the state-owned sponsors to withhold further disbursal of funds towards the sponsorship of the Commonwealth Games 2010, the Games organizing committee (OC) is making all out efforts to woo the existing sponsors besides seeking the government's help to get new ones for this mega

The Railways, with a commitment of Rs 100 crore as the main sponsor, NTPC (Rs 50 crore) and Powergrid (Rs 10 crore) as co-sponsors had last week threatened to pull their sponsorships.

Stung, the OC is making desperate efforts to control the damage. Both NTPC and the Railways confirmed to the Hindustan Times that they have received verbal assurances from the OC over "no mis-use of public funds going as commissions to any individual or foreign and domestic organisations." 

"We have been told by them (OC) that letters giving written commitments that sponsorship amounts would be used only for the bona fide objectives of the Games, will be issued by Tuesday (August 10)," said a senior NTPC official.

NTPC, had on August 4, asked the OC chairman, Suresh Kalmadi for a written commitment on the appropriate usage of funds along with the scrutiny of funds by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).

While NTPC, which has withheld Rs 30 crore out of the Rs 50 crore, said it will release the rest after a written confirmation from the OC, Powergrid still sounded reluctant over "any disbursal of funds".

An official in the Railways also said no disbursal of sponsorship amounts will be made till written commitments are received from the OC.

PSU sources in SAIL and BHEL also disclosed that fresh efforts are being made by the sports ministry through the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE)—the government body overseeing functioning of all PSUs—to get more PSUs to sponsor the Games.

The DPE, which had earlier written to the PSUs to support the Games, had later retracted its letter after allegations over the misuse of funds by the OC.

However, the sports ministry has again approached the DPE to ask the PSUs to support the Games. "While DPE is not forcing us and no fresh directives have come from it, verbally we have been told to support the games in light of the ongoing negative sentiments," said two PSU officials.

"We were under tremendous pressure for a big sponsorship amount but we have not taken any decision," confirmed a senior SAIL management official.

"These are difficult times. We need to motivate our officials as our prime objective is to hold a successful Games. We can't turn back now. I just pray everything goes off well."

With eight weeks to go, the Games are still running of its target by Rs 600-700 crore.

Deadline Tuesday, debris still here

The Commonwealth Games might be hanging over their heads, but even that has not stopped the civic agencies from again pushing the deadline to remove tonnes of construction and demolition waste strewn on the Capital’s streets. As the deadline to remove the malba is set to expire on August
10, the MCD has reasoned that as the deadline for most CWG projects has been extended to August 31, the malba removal deadline should also be extended. The civic agency is carrying out streetscaping work on a number of major roads, beautification work in Paharganj, relaying footpaths and is also installing new streetlights.

"The deadline for most of Games project has been extended to August 31. Hence, it makes sense to extend the deadline to remove the malba to August 31 too. We will take up this matter with the Delhi government. Whatever their decision, we will abide by it. MCD is continuously removing malba from the construction sites and will ensure that it is removed at the earliest," said Deep Mathur, director, press and information.

Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit had set August 10 as the deadline to remove all construction and demolition waste from the city. She had also reiterated that there would be no deviation in the deadlines to halt digging work and to remove the malba.

With barely two days to go for the deadline, Dikshit has said that any decision on the extension will be taken after reviewing the position on August 10. "Let the deadline expire first then I will comment on it after that," said Dikshit.

It seems unlikely that the construction material lying on most roads and footpaths will be removed by the civic agencies on time as barely two days are left for the deadline to expire. Chunks of malba can be seen lying on the city’s main roads even as the civic agencies try to complete the projects on time.

The material dug out has been left to decay on the road causing massive inconvenience to motorists and residents.

In the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) area work is still on at Connaught Place, footpaths are being relayed on many sites such as Tolstoy Marg, K.G. Marg, Janpath, streetlight work is being carried out on S.P. Marg, Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg among others.

"Some minor work will remain but we will try to complete all the major roads before August 10," said Anand Tiwari, NDMC spokesman.

With the PWD carrying out signage installation work near Savitri Cinema, the construction material has not been lifted. Area residents say, digging here began only a few days back.

MCD says it is getting malba from other civic agencies including PWD, NDMC, DDA among others at Burari Malba Processing Plant.

"Since the deadline’s announcement, the plant has received 50,000 metric tonne of malba. Of this, more than 50 per cent came from MCD’s construction sites," added Mathur.

Don’t blame the OC, says Kalmadi

The 2010 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (OC) said on Sunday no one should blame them for non-compliance of safety regulations as highlighted in the Central Vigilance Committee report.  Reacting to Commonwealth Games Federation President Mike Fennell’s interview that appeared in HT on
Sunday, OC chairman Suresh Kalmadi said, it was wrong to blame OC for delays and controversies involving venue renovations and constructions.

"We are just a monitoring agency and not a construction agency," said Kalmadi on Sunday.

“We should not be blamed for delays in acquiring fire, health and safety certificates for the venues. These should be taken care of by the agencies involved with infrastructure.”

The CGF chief was clearly worried about these aspects and had told HT on Saturday, “By the time of my next visit we have asked the Organising Committee to secure a report from each of the government agencies responsible for the delivery of venues that provides confirmation that all regulatory approvals including fire, health and safety have been secured for each venue.”

Kalmadi said, “It shows we were not responsible for acquiring the certificates.”

At the  same time the Organising Committee’s chairman also assured that every detail of the venues will be taken care of and everything will be in place before the Games begin. Kalmadi felt it was needless to get into all these controversies at this moment, as “our endeavour should be to host a successful Games as stressed by Fennell”.

British Queen furious over CWG baton controversy

The British Queen is in "cold fury" over allegations of financial irregularities involving a British firm and the Commonwealth Games baton relay, a media report said Sunday.

Daily Express Sunday reported that the baton, which has a message from the Queen, has been tainted by claims it has been used by a British firm to cash in on the Royal brand. The baton is carried by runners around the world, before it arrives at the host city New Delhi.

The CWG organising committee is alleged to have paid AM Films, an Indian-owned firm in London, over 450,000 pounds for services during the Queen's Baton Relay inaugural without proper tendering and paper work.

The Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (CGOC) has formed a three-member panel to probe the allegations that a letter from the Indian High Commission in London, which CGOC claimed recommended AM Films for the Queen's Baton Relay inaugural in October last year, was tampered with.

The media report said that the Queen is understood to be in a "cold fury" over the affair, which she sees as besmirching the symbolic baton.

A diplomatic source in India was quoted as saying: "The Queen’s goodwill in launching the baton in London has led to her being caught up in this matter although she is an innocent party."

The Commonwealth Games are going to be held in New Delhi from Oct 3 to 14.

Three major projects to miss Aug 31 deadline

It seems the city will fail to meet the August 31 deadline, set by the chief minister herself, of completing the Commonwealth Games-related infrastructure projects. Senior Delhi government officials say, critical portion of work on at least three projects, the elevated road on the Barapullah drain,
streetscaping along roads leading to the venues and renovation of the Yamuna Sports Complex, is still pending. Officials say they may take at least 7-10 days after August 31 to finish these three crucial projects.

Sources say, work is still left on one carriageway of the elevated road on Barapullah Nullah which may take some time to complete. "The span on the railway tracks near Nizamuddin railway station is still incomplete. The PWD got the necessary approvals for the construction above the tracks a little late. While one carriageway will be complete by August 25, work on the other carriageway will go on till September first week," a senior Delhi government official said.

The four-km-long elevated road between Sarai Kale Khan and Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the main venue, is being built to provide uninterrupted traffic flow from the Games Village in east Delhi to the stadium. The project has missed its deadlines and has exceeded its budget.

PWD sources added that the streetscaping work would also take time to complete. Though the PWD has increased the number of men working on the project, officials say the project will still take time to finish.

After receiving flak from all quarters on the slow progress of infrastructure projects, Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit had set August 31 as the deadline to complete all construction works. In a review meeting in July-end, she had admitted that some projects might get delayed would be finished in September.

Graffiti artists take war against Games to walls

A heady mix of social awareness groups, anti-establishment urban art aficionados, ex-pat neo-radicals and revolutionary student groups are taking the city's nascent graffiti movement beyond freestyle frescoes in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games. The city's landscape is their canvas as these
groups—united by their discontent at the corruption, massive delays and the general ‘ugliness' of Games preparations—spray-paint cryptic one-liners and statements questioning the event's relevance.

"This year is the highlight as far as the movement in the whole country is concerned with anti-CWG graffiti coming-up in Delhi. There are around 300 such pieces of art at various locations ranging from south Delhi flyovers to affluent central Delhi neighbourhoods and even on road signages," said a promoter of the underground graffiti movement who wishes to be identified only as M.

Those behind some of the anti-games graffiti that has cropped-up dangerously close to the stadia — including the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium, say their objective is to expose the government's "anti-poor agenda" veiled in patriotism.

"Slum-dwellers are being evicted left, right and centre to create broader roads on which the athletes can be ferried. Tens of people die during slum-fires and here we have palatial apartments coming up in the Games Village. I, as a Delhiite, was angry and chose stencil graffiti to spread awareness about this injustice," says a DU north campus student who does not wish to be identified.

She said she was part of a students' group and social awareness outfits behind the anti-Games graffiti that aims to expose the Games ‘for the sham they really are'.

"The government doesn't have enough money to feed its people — but there's enough to rent useless provisions for crores of rupees in the name of the Games. Innumerable labourers have died in the inhuman conditions they work in by the private contractors who make all the money. Our aim is to expose all this, to tell the people of the city that it is high time that they stood up for what's right instead of turning away their heads for a change," said a south campus graffiti artist.

"The articulation of dissent in this way can only be perceived as a form of cultural guerrilla warfare in a swiftly shrinking urban space," said Dunu Roy, director of the Hazard Centre, a Delhi-based NGO.

"The city is in a state of flux. The sharp polarisation that is taking place due to the inaccessibility of public organisations means that dissent can only be expressed in this way," Roy added.

According to non-participating connoisseurs, graffiti 'stencilism' and the 'sticker culture' of the urban art form is going to take over the city by the end of 2011, one wall at a time.

"Such movements don't just make it big overnight. It takes talent and vision that these kids are not yet exposed to. I would say that Delhi is way behind in this movement compared to Mumbai and its massive 30-metre graffiti spreads. But things are changing," added DJ MoCity, a hip-hop DJ who stays and plays in the capital.

Cops on Games duty will shed khaki for white

The latest item Delhi Police has planned to procure as part of its preparations ahead of the Commonwealth Games  has baffled some of its own officials. According to an order dated August 4, Delhi Police has asked for 667 while-coloured shirts and pants for policemen who will be deployed inside the Games stadia. Till now, for securing the Commonwealth Games Delhi Police has procured several items from modern weapons and bomb-detection kits to new puppies, cameras and even specially-enabled vehicles.

Senior police officers said the tenders will be opened on August 25 and the clothes will have to be delivered within 10 days of the issue of supply order.

But many are wondering what went wrong with the khaki uniform? "The khaki uniform is one of the best-recognized uniforms in the country. It is the pride of a policeman. But it is also well-known that there are apprehensions amongst the public regarding this uniform. The idea is to allow the Games spectators to relax and enjoy the sporting events. If too many of our men in khaki crowd the stadium there might be unnecessary panic which could trigger a security alarm for no reason,'' explained a senior officer at the Delhi Police headquarters.

Not all officers manning the stadia will wear the new uniform though. "We need this attire for only those officers who are positioned at strategic locations inside the stadium. We have calculated our needs and placed the order accordingly,'' said J K Singh, joint commissioner (Commonwealth Games).

Meanwhile, middle-level officers, who will be seen in whites, questioned the rationale behind assigning just one set of clothes for a period of 12 days. Though, the tender document says the quantity of items can be increased or decreased till the delivery is completed.

Senior officers said white was chosen as the colour after much deliberation. "White is a colour of peace. Moreover, it is easy to identify this colour in a crowd. With this, monitoring our own personnel through CCTV cameras will be easier,'' said a senior officer. He added that a special cap is also being designed. "The idea is to track the movement of our men amidst the crowd and send out periodic instructions from the control room,'' added the officer.

The tender document also states that if the supply is found to be of inferior quality as regards the sample approved by the purchase committee, the consignment will be rejected. "The supplier will have to take back the consignment at his own cost and replace it with fresh stock as per approved samples within two days,'' the document reads.

PM to take action on financial irregularities in CW Games: Khurshid

The Prime Minister will take "appropriate action" on the issue of alleged financial irregularities in the Commonwealth Games projects, Union Minister Salman Khurshid said on Sunday. "Our first priority is the smooth conduct of the Commonwealth Games. Let the games be finished, we are hopeful that the Prime Minister will take an appropriate action (on alleged financial irregularities)," Khurshid told reporters in Dehradun on the sidelines of convocation of Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy (IGNFA).

On Kashmir, the Corporate and Minorities Affairs Minister said the Prime Minister and Home Minister P Chidambaram are constantly monitoring the situation and are working hard to bring normalcy there.

"There is an elected government in Jammu and Kashmir. We must strengthen the hands of the government in the state where a young and dynamic Chief Minister is handling the situation," he said.

"The Prime Minister is concerned, we all are concerned and trying to find out a solution," the minister said.

Those responsible for corruption in CWG should quit: Bardhan

Communist Party of India (CPI) today said those responsible for huge corruption in preparation for Commonwealth Games should quit forthwith. "We have crossed all limits of corrupt practices. Though we are hosting Commonwealth Games, we have broken Olympics record in corruption", CPI general
secretary A B Bardhan said sarcastically at a press meet in Nagpur on Sunday.

Criticising the style of functioning of CWG Organising Committee Secretary General Suresh Kalmadi, Bardhan said "If Kalmadi is now distancing himself from corruption, then who else is responsible for it."

"If they do not quit on their own, Government should intervene and sack them", said the veteran leader who hails from the city.

Bardhan said a new big stadium like Jawaharlal Nehru could have been built at an approximate cost of Rs 200 or 250 crore, but the renovation of same has cost Rs 961 crore, he said.

Punish those guilty of lapses but Games should go on

Terming the hosting of the Commonwealth Games as a matter of national prestige, concerned citizens and eminent sportpersons feel that the mega event should go on and those involved in alleged financial irregularities must be "severely punished".

"The Games must go on as it is related to the prestige of the country. But we cannot push the probe related to the monetary scams which have surfaced recently. The investigations should continue side-by-side. One thing that can be done is changing the people allegedly involved in it," said Kuldeep Nayyar, an eminent journalist and human rights activist, told IANS.

"There is so much negativity around that I am really doubtful whether we will be able to hold the Games successfully as lot of arrangements are yet to be completed. I hope things go well," said political analyst Inder Malhotra.

The Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (CGOC) is alleged to have paid AM Films, an Indian-owned firm in London, over 450,000 pounds for services during last year's Queen's Baton Relay inaugural without proper tendering and paperwork.

Two aides of CGOC chief Suresh Kalmadi were suspended after an enquiry found that an e-mail from the Indian High Commission in London on the basis of which the firm was hired were tampered with.

This apart, CGOC treasurer Anil Khanna quit in the wake of allegations that his son's firm was unduly favoured in ordering the synthetic turf for the tennis stadium for the Games.

Audit watchdog Comptroller and Auditor General of India has also commented adversely on the cost overruns for the stadia being built or refurbished for the Oct 3-14 Games.

Some people said that the prime concern now is to see that the Games are conducted in a manner befitting the country's status in the 53-member Commonwealth of Nations. If there is any truth in the charges, the guilty can always be brought to book once the Games are over.

"The recent negative media coverage of Delhi Commonwealth Games has resulted in absolute negativity among people and the whole world. I think all the culprits should be severely punished but all should be done after our country's greatest ever sporting event is over," said Subrata Roy of Sahara India Pariwar.

Sportspersons who are often at the receiving end of policies of ill-managed sports bodies dominated by politicians, strongly believe that allegations of improprieties are damaging the country's reputation too.

"These issues are causing a lot of distractions and I feel the guilty should be punished. The charges of financial irregularities are serious as it was public money after all," said Akhil Kumar, Commonwealth Games boxing champion.

"These cases spoil the reputation of the country and those who are doing it should not be allowed to go scot free. With this controversy the country is losing focus from the Games," he said.

Talking about the alleged financial irregularities, wrestler Sushil Kumar, who won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics, said: "These issues have tainted the name of the country."

"India is hosting such a tournament after a long time and this was the last thing the country could have afforded and that too with less than two months left for the Games," he said.

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