Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Commonwealth Games Venues still far from finishing line

With less than two months left to the Commonwealth Games, the organising committee (OC) seems to be facing an uphill task. While officially, the OC has been at pains to claim that it has moved into all venues, sources say a lot of work still needs to be done before it can take over the venues fully. From addition of water lines to putting in an extra door at a venue, a list of pending works has been handed over to the venue owners.

Wednesday’s torrential rain didn’t help matters with complaints of waterlogging coming from several venues, including Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. It also prompted the top brass of Central Public Works Department (CPWD) to visit all the sites.

Said Lalit Bhanot, secretary general, OC, ‘‘Our officials have moved into all the venues for carrying out inventory. Complete handover should happen soon.’’ Bhanot, who visited venues after the rain on Wednesday, claimed all matters were being discussed with venue onwers before the takeover. Asked if he was satisfied with the state of progress, Bhanot claimed everything was on schedule. Senior officials of CPWD also visited venues in the backdrop of the rain.

BK Chugh, director general (works) of CPWD, denied there were any instances of waterlogging at any of the sites. ‘‘A few areas may have temporarily witnessed some water accumulation but that is not waterlogging. All our venues are ready. Only the remaining work that OC wants done is being undertaken at the sites,’’ claimed Chugh.

Sources, however, said the situation was different on the ground. Waterlogging was witnessed not only at JLN stadium but also at venues such as Talkatora and IG indoor stadium. Across town, the venues being built by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) — Siri Fort and Yamuna sports complex — also saw waterlogging. While DDA officials admitted some leakage was reported at Yamuna sports complex, they said it was temporary. ‘‘Pipes overflowed in some areas but it was part of the ongoing work,’’ said a site official.

Bits of Delhi on canvas

In a precursor to Commonwealth Games (CWG) being hosted by Delhi in October, artist Anjanna Kuthiala has initiated an attempt. As a tribute to the Capital on canvas, well-known personalities – Shiela Dikshit, Madhur Bhandarkar, Tanisha Mohan and Ruchii Rai have painted large canvases. Kuthiala has
done a six-feet large canvas that portrays the essence and spirit of this city, aspiring to be a ‘world-class’ metropolis.

“The greatest tribute I can pay to Delhi is a peaceful and harmonious city, a world-class infrastructure that represents the ethos and soul of India,” says Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit.

The initiative is also working for a Clean Delhi Drive ahead of CWG and it has a specific mention in Kuthiala’s work. “My canvas has bits and pieces from all around this large city.

It shows Pragati Maidan, Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, India Gate, Chandi Chowk, the Yamuna river and many more such things. Most are symbolic than straight figures and that is the unique part about this work.”

Kuthiala also feels that a lot of negativity has spread around the Games and we should instead look at the positive side. “When I was in my teens, the Asian Games took place and Pragati Maidan was build, which is now a very important part of Delhi. I believe even the CWG will bring lots of such land marks to Delhi.”

Another contributor to the initiative is filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar. He has women as the focus. “I have shown Delhi through the eyes of a woman. Like my films where women are always the central characters, in my painting too, I have tried to present a woman’s perspective,” says Bhandarkar. The paintings will be unveiled tomorrow at Hotel Le Meridien at 7 pm by Shiela Dikshit.

Sevens squad's green light for Commonwealth Games

SCOTLAND have confirmed their participation in Sevens rugby at the Commonwealth Games in October after naming a 12-man squad for the event.

The party includes seven of the players who competed for Scotland in the Edinburgh leg of the 2010 IRB Sevens World Series at the end of May, finishing fifth, and an additional two players who featured in the team which achieved back-to-back semi-final places in London and Edinburgh in the 2009 tournament.

"We are delighted that our participation in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi has been confirmed," said Scotland Sevens coach, Stephen Gemmell, who will lead the team at tournament. "The Commonwealth Games is a major event on the world sporting calendar and Scottish Rugby and Scotland Sevens are hugely honoured to be part of it.

"We've worked hard through our selection process with the Commonwealth Games Council Scotland and I'm delighted that, at the end of that selection process, the team we've nominated has been confirmed. Our preparations will now start in earnest with a view to contributing to a successful Team Scotland in October."

All the nominated players have previously played in successful Scotland Sevens teams, including one who played in the 2006 Commonwealth Games - Edinburgh's Andrew Turnbull. There are six Scotland A caps in the squad and one full Scotland internationalist in Dave Callam.

While October is a busy period for professional rugby, Gemmell has secured a squad brimming with international sevens experience and is delighted that the quality of talent has been recognised.

"There are seven guys who were part of the squad in London and Edinburgh and we've got two additional players - Scott Forrest and Hefin O'Hare - who both played in the semi-final team in London and Edinburgh last year.

"There's a wealth of experience there, then you bring in players such as Scott Newlands who has been performing well for Edinburgh.

"To have someone such as Dave Callam in there as an internationalist gives us real leadership and experience both on and off the field. He's really excited to be included and is looking forward to going to Delhi."

The decision to include rugby sevens as part of Team Scotland was based on results from both the 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens and the IRB Sevens World Series during a three-year period.

Rugby sevens is one of ten core sports at the Commonwealth Games. Scotland will go into the Games seeded eighth by the IRB and will play in pool A, against defending Games champions and top seeds New Zealand, World Series regulars Canada and Caribbean champions Guyana, who also competed on the World Series this season in Las Vegas.

New Zealand fears terror attack in India before Commonwealth Games

New Zealand officials in India anticipate a terrorist attack on a "soft target" ahead of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, according to a diplomatic note published today.

However, New Zealand Games chief Mike Stanley told athletes it was still too early to say whether it would be too dangerous to take part in the October event.

The possibility of a terrorist attack was detailed in diplomatic cables released to the Dominion Post newspaper relating to visits to New Delhi by New Zealand High Commission staff.

After one mission, between February 28 and March 13, officials told Wellington: "The pre-Games environment could be overshadowed by some form of 'soft target' attack such as the recent attack on the German bakery in Pune, which would be unsettling and capture media attention."

Seventeen people, including four foreigners, were killed and 65 injured in the February 13 attack on the bakery, located in a tourism hot-spot.

The Commonwealth Games would be held in "a high-threat environment", the officials in New Delhi said.

"The general security situation in India is stressed. Terrorist attacks, especially on softer targets are likely to continue."

New Zealand is sending 195 athletes and 100 officials to the Games and Stanley has told athletes they can pack their bags for New Delhi but may have to abort their journey if security considerations require it.

"At a point in time, we're going to have to say: 'Are we comfortable to have a team going to Delhi?' That time is not now, but that is certainly a decision we will take when we get people on the ground in India," Stanley said.

Sport Minister Murray McCully, who released the information, said the New Zealand government was treating security arrangements for the Games "very seriously".

A spokesman for Prime MinisterJohn Key said decisions on whether athletes should travel to India were up to the sporting bodies involved.

However, the government was keeping them advised of developments, and there was "high-level" communication between the sporting organisations, police and the prime minister's department.

Games flats home to mosquitoes

The DDA  flats under construction in Vasant Kunj have become the breeding ground for Aedes aegypti mosquito which is responsible for dengue. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has found high-density of mosquito breeding in the basement of DDA flats which are earmarked for Commonwealth Games officials.

MCD officials say that they can’t take preventive measures, as the basement has knee-deep water and most parts of the basement are inaccessible. And despite four challans and repeated reminders, DDA is yet to start draining the water.

‘‘The entire basement of the building is waterlogged. We have put anti-larval medicine near the staircase, but we can’t go inside as the water is knee-deep. Since 20 July, we have issued four challans to DDA and still no action has been taken. They are supposed to use pumps to drain the water. We have found high-density of mosquito breeding in the basement,’’ said Lal Chand, MCD’s Malaria in charge. He added, ‘‘The water has been there for the past 20 days. The basement has construction material, iron rods, etc, and it is impossible for us to reach the interiors.’’

Residents of Vasant Kunj, especially D block, are a worried lot. Several dengue cases have been reported from this area. ‘‘My granddaughter was admitted at AIIMS with dengue and a few days later my maid was diagnosed with the viral infection. There are several dengue cases reported in my locality,’’ said Dr P V Rao, a resident of D block, Vasant Kunj.

Sources in MCD say that the construction company is just focusing on finishing the work and is not paying any attention to mosquito breeding in the basement. ‘‘We told DDA to drain the water soon after the first rain, but they didn’t bother. With subsequent rainfall the water level in the basement has risen and it has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes,’’ said a senior MCD official.

DDA spokesperson, Neemo Dhar, rubbished MCD’s allegation that they didn’t drain the water after the first rainfall. ‘‘We did drain the water after the first rainfall. But water got collected again after it rained last week. We have asked the construction company to drain the water and have provided pumps for the same on Wednesday.’’

Quit heat on Kalmadi, panic freezes panel

The scandal-ridden Commonwealth Games organising committee is frozen in inertia, too afraid to finalise new contracts, as pressure appears to mount on its chief Suresh Kalmadi to resign, even from within his own party.

A series of fresh media reports on alleged irregularities in the award of Games contracts today prompted Kalmadi to hold an emergency meeting of his officials at his home late in the evening.

While Congress sources said there was growing pressure on the MP to accept moral responsibility and quit, government officials said Kalmadi’s deputy Randhir Singh could replace him if he resigned.

“Stunned” by the developments, committee officials are sitting on important contracts, such as one relating to merchandising of Games souvenirs, a source said. “They are too afraid to put their signatures on any document lest it get them into trouble,” he said.

The delay has apparently led a tentatively chosen contractor to demand compensation.

Congress sources said the party’s refusal to field Kalmadi as one of its speakers during yesterday’s Lok Sabha debate on the Games was “significant”. Responding to a question, party general secretary Digvijay Singh had even said that Kalmadi should quit if his name figured in any CBI investigation.

“There is no CBI case yet that names Kalmadi, but (Digvijay’s) comment and the fact that the party made him sit through the Parliament debate without allowing him to defend himself are significant,” a Congress source said.

Union sports minister M.S. Gill had yesterday told Parliament that the government could not remove Kalmadi under the agreement signed with the Commonwealth Games Federation, but the source said: “This is about Kalmadi taking moral responsibility.”

With each passing day, Kalmadi appears more cornered. Today, there were media reports of a CAG inspection report finding irregularities in the award of contracts.

Another blow came from his close aide T.S. Darbari, who claimed he had been made a “scapegoat” in the scandal over the hiring of a British firm during the Queen’s Baton Relay (QBR) in London in October 2009.

Darbari, removed as joint director-general of the organising committee, has hinted that the deal with AM Films —struck without a tender process or a written contract — could not have been possible without Kalmadi’s knowledge. Kalmadi claims that AM Films was hired by his aides without his knowledge.

Darbari has alleged that the Kalmadi-headed finance committee had sanctioned the Rs 3.2 crore the company was paid for transport and other services.

“My role in the London QBR launch was ceremonial. It had nothing to do with any negotiation of short-listing of vendors or financial transaction or reimbursement or recommendation of advance,” Darbari told news agencies.

Kalmadi also faces criticism from within the committee for failing to convince the Board of Control for Cricket in India to delay the upcoming India-Australia Test series, which coincides with the Games. The committee fears the Games will lose eyeballs and sponsorships to cricket.

The sponsorship so far has been Rs 405 crore, less than half the target of Rs 950 crore. Most of the sponsors who have signed up so far are Indian public sector companies.

Kids at CWGames sites face danger & death

Jayanti  is traumatised by the thought of the speeding truck that crushed to death her two-year-old daughter, Varsha, on Monday night inside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium complex. The world has collapsed for her and her husband, Hari, but it’s work as usual at the complex. The fear of the contractors enforcing a strict deadline was palpable on Wednesday. Hundreds of labourers worked at a frantic pace while security guards maintained a hawkish vigil at the many gates.

Jayanti, 22, and her husband came to Delhi just over a month back from their village close to Jhansi to join the thousands working at Commonwealth Games construction sites. And their world has turned upside down.

When this reporter visited the stadium complex on Wednesday, all the gates were well-guarded with securitymen keeping the workers away from any questioning. Outside the gates, one saw labourers, both men and women, doing streetscaping work. Most were afraid to talk and few were aware of the death of a child inside the complex. With parents at work, children were seen playing in the midst of construction material and equipment on the road.

Jayanti said they had been employed for about 15 days at this site and were getting Rs 130 each as daily wages. The work hours stretch from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm. Weeping for her daughter, Jayanti said on Monday evening, she had asked the in-charge if she could leave for the day with her daughter at 7.00 pm but she wasn’t allowed to go.

When the truck appeared from nowhere and crashed into the footpath, the workers ran to safety but Varsha came under the wheels and died on the spot. The driver managed to escape in the chaos though the gate is well-guarded. The police was called and a case registered. Officials at the Lodi Road Police Station said the driver had been traced and was being brought to Delhi from Himachal Pradesh.

Hari said in the past two days they have received no help from the authorities, not even a few words of consolation. Geeta, another construction worker, who also belongs to Jhansi, complained that she has been working at the site for over a month now and there are no facilities for children. ‘‘They make us work all day, and with no place to leave the children behind, we have to take them to the site where they just play around,’’ she said, pointing out her four children. There are many more inside the complex.

Anjali Alexander from the Commonwealth Games-Citizens Workers Women and Children’s network says a creche is critical at such sites till work is on as children cannot be left in unsafe zones. ‘‘We had set up a creche with the assistance of the state labour department at a few sites, including JLN stadium. This creche started in 2008 July and continued with labour board funding till August 2009. After that we ran the creche till April 2010 with other resources, but then we asked by the authorities to leave as the work was going to get over. We kept pointing out that there were children there but no one listened to us,’’ said Anjali.

Delhi bans road digging from Aug 20

Facing criticism for delay in completion of several infrastructure projects related to the Commonwealth Games, the Delhi government Wednesday imposed a ban on digging city roads from Aug 20.

"It was observed that in some areas roads are being dug even after completion of work, which is resulting in an unpleasing situation on the roads. Digging of recently constructed roads is also damaging footpath," said Delhi Urban Development Minister A.K. Walia.

Walia said roads were being dug by power distribution companies, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL) and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) and that they have been asked to complete their work by Aug 16.

"The Games will be 40 days away from Aug 20. Hence no further permission will be granted for digging roads," he added.

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