Thursday, August 12, 2010

Commonwealth CEO denies interfering with firm hire

The chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation has denied his organization acted improperly over the appointment of a consultancy firm to handle international broadcasting rights for the event in India in October.

Mike Hooper said Thursday that the CGF had recommended Fast Track Sales Ltd. but it was the Indian organizing committee's decision to hire the company.

Hooper says "although the CGF supported the appointment of Fast Track, it strongly refutes any inference that it interfered in the selection process."

The Press Trust of India says the appointment has been criticized by India's government auditor because there was no technical evaluation of the bidders.

The Commonwealth Games will run from Oct. 3-14.

Commonwealth Games: Special Delhi-Agra Shatabdi to run from Oct 3

Coinciding with the Commonwealth Games, Northern Railway will be running a special Shatabdi train between Delhi and Agra  from October 3. The train will cater to tourists, athletes and officials who plan to visit the Taj Mahal during the games. The railways said the special train that will run at a speed of 140 km/hr, will function non-stop. "The train will leave Delhi in the morning and will reach Agra in 75 minutes. It will return to Delhi in the evening the same day,'' said a senior railway board official.

Talking to Times City, Manish Tiwary, CPRO, Northern Railway said this train will have a capacity of 600 persons. "We are consulting the organising committee to fix the fare for the route. We plan to charge in accordance to the prevailing Shatabdi Express' fares. In addition, we will be using LHB coaches, those used in Shatabdis and Rajdhanis, to give passengers a comfortable ride,'' added Tiwary.

According to railway officials, an internal audit has found that the maximum foreign tourists rush to Agra and Jaipur. "Since we are an important sponsor of the CWG, we can use this opportunity to compete with the road transport. We want to keep the fares competitive so that we stand a proper chance against the road services,'' said an officer.

The railways said they were also mulling the option of running a service to Jaipur if they get a positive response from the railway board. The railways has already announced that the special heritage, which runs with steam engines, will operate between Delhi and Rewari at the weekends.

Northern Railway officials said special care will be taken in deciding the food items in these trains. "We will prepare the menu keeping the tastes of international tourists in mind,'' said a railway Bhavan officer.

Post-Games, two stadiums to turn into sports schools

The crores of taxpayers' money that has been spent on the Commonwealth Games  2010 will be put to good use after the mega sporting event. According to senior officials in the Delhi government, two of the stadia renovated for the Delhi Games will be turned into "sports schools''. Education ministerArvinder Singh Lovely said, "Both Chhattrasal and Thyagaraj stadium  will be used for coaching the young talent in the city. This is to ensure that the venues are put to good use, specially after we have spent crores upgrading them.''

The plan is certainly ambitious the education department, which is in charge of sports, plans to hire more than 600 coaches to train budding sportspersons, who will be coached at Chhattrasal and Thyagaraj stadium. These venues, which have the latest equipment and international-level facilities, will run coaching classes in both morning and evening shifts. Said Satpal, additional director (sports) in the education department, "The plan is to coach over 5,000 young sportspersons in Chhattrasal, which has a large ground and facilities for a varied number of sports, including athletics, lawn tennis, basketball and football. Also, the wrestling hall has been renovated and is fully air-conditioned now. At Thyagaraj, the number of students will be fewer, around 2,000, since it's a smaller venue.''

Till now, while Chhattrasal Stadium was used for a variety of purposes, including hosting of social events, the Thyagaraj ground had been lying useless. The new Thyagaraj Stadium will also house the education department after the Delhi Games while Chhattrasal will have the offices of the additional director sports.

The legacy plan comes even as the sports ministry is yet to find takers for its various stadia. The ministry, which floated the tender for the upkeep of venues after the Games as part of a public-private partnership, has been claiming that its venues will not end up as glorified banquet halls. It's a prospect that has been haunting even the Delhi government, which spent Rs 297 crore on Thyagaraj and Rs 70 crore on Chhattrasal stadium. Satpal added, "The venues will be used to groom international-level athletes. That's not all, we will also allow senior citizens to use the facilities for a nominal fee.''

Incidentally, the government had earlier planned to turn the state-of-the-art Thayagraj Stadium the only green stadium in the city into a convention centre. This had elicited a lot of negative reaction, prompting the government to do a rethink. The sports schools now planned are expected to take off after the Games. Budget for the hiring of coaches and other equipment is yet to be decided, said officials.

CWG scam; UK firm sends Rs 90-lakh bill

The UK firm accused of receiving inflated payments from the organisers of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) has sent a bill to the Organising Committee of £122,692 (Rs 89.52 lakh) as unpaid dues for services during the Queen’s Baton Relay (QBR).

This email to top OC officials from Ashish Patel of AM Car & Van came as recently as August 2 right in the middle of the controversy that gripped the OC and prompted its chairman Suresh Kalmadi to deny any charges of wrongdoing.

Incidentally, on August 4, when Kalmadi said he was open to any probe, he made no mention of this note from AM Car & Van.

The email, senior officials admit, suggests discrepancies in payments made to AM Car & Van and its sister concern AM Films. A total of £3.84 lakh was paid to these firm since October 2009.

Three OC officials have been either dismissed or suspended following allegations of “financial irregularities” in the AM deal as well as other controversies.

Scrutiny of all foreign exchange transactions made for the QBR have been handed over to the Enforcement Directorate.

Details of the OC’s internal investigation have thrown up key details:

Due to discrepancies in accounts and receipts, officials in New Delhi did not settle final accounts with AM Car and AM Films, Result: OC account books show £3.84 lakh as “outstanding and unsettled.”

In August 2009, T S Darbari and Sanjay Mohindroo hired the services of AM Car & Van and notched up a bill for £3,376 for their 6-day stay in London.

Subsequently, on October 23-24, the OC made several payments to these AM companies. The first was a payment of £2.38 lakh made to AM Car & Van of which the company asked the OC to transfer a little over 1 lakh pounds to the account of AM films.

The OC also marked a second payment of £1.46 lakh to AM Films around the same time.

The OC provided credit cards to some officials when they visited London in connection with the QBR ceremonies after seeking RBI permission. These included Deputy Director General Sanjay Mohindroo and OSD M Jaichandran, both of whom were given credit limits of £65,000.

Mohindroo reportedly said that a bulk of this limit was paid by him to AM Car/Films for their services and the ED is now looking at this money trail too.

Where CWG means Call With Grace - Escort services at play in capital with eye on foreign guests

Don’t worry about delays, Mr Suresh Kalmadi. The games are already off the blocks for at least one group.

On the Internet now, CWG stands for “Call With Grace” in one of the many ads escort agencies have uploaded with an eye on some of the 90,000 foreigners expected to arrive in Delhi for the real CWG (Commonwealth Games).

Photos and profiles of the escorts — the ads promise college girls, airhostesses, supermodels, homemakers and celebrities — are posted along with a rate card and the cellphone number of a contact person.

“Hello gentlemen! My name is Alex, I am new to Delhi Escorts Team. I am a very sexy, beautiful escort. I am very open-minded, friendly and well-educated who offer the best girlfriend experiences. Hope to see you soon,” goes one ad. The charges: Rs 20,000 for two hours, Rs 30,000 for intimate encounters (three to four hours) and Rs 40,000 for the night. Reema, who claims to be a model, charges between Rs 40,000 and Rs 80,000.

“We have already sent letters to police informing them about it,” said an official of the Kalmadi-led Games organising committee, which is facing charges of corruption and delay in preparations.

A senior Delhi police officer confirmed that six such websites had come up in the past one-and-a-half months, apart from independent escorts offering their services. “It’s all about having good business sense,” he shrugged, adding that the police were too busy with security and other arrangements to bother with this.

It is not just the ads that are new, many of the girls, too, are. A member of an escort agency said they had brought in girls from Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta, Pune, Goa and Chandigarh for the Games.

“So many foreigners will be coming to Delhi and that’s why we have got escorts from other metros as well to meet the demand…. We are looking forward to making the most of the event,” he said, adding that several agencies had recruited new girls and trained them in etiquette and how to deal with foreigners.

The contact person of another agency, whose number was posted in an ad, promised high-profile escorts who are “all educated and speak fluent English. All of them belong to very good families”.

Speaking fluent English himself, the contact told this correspondent, who posed as a prospective client, over the phone: “Please give me the name of the escort you want to meet and also the address where you want her to go. It will be convenient if you book a room in (a five-star hotel). They prefer going to big hotels.”

Rajan Bhagat, a spokesperson for Delhi police, said a team was formed to crack down on such activity but was having trouble tracking down the offenders. “They have set up several websites but the server is outside India and that’s why it is very difficult to locate them,” he said, adding that wherever they had specific information, they were taking action.

Cyber crime expert Pawan Duggal said the police could act under “Section 67 of the Information Technology Act 2000, which says anything obscene (published or transmitted) which intends to corrupt the minds of those who are likely to see, read or hear it, is an offence”. The punishment could go up to three years in prison and a fine of Rs 5 lakh.

There is nothing obscene about the word escort. “But when they advertise to provide services where monetary transaction is involved, it becomes an offence,” said Duggal, who practises cyber law at the Supreme Court. “Lack of will on the part of the police is to be blamed as they are more focused on other serious crimes like murder and rape. This has helped the racket grow.”

A senior IPS officer shrugged off the escort service boom as “normal”.

“Keeping this in mind, the government is also installing condom-vending machines at the Games venues to make the Commonwealth Games safe. This also happened in South Africa during the football World Cup,” he said.

Safdarjung airport offers parking for Games ceremonies

Delhiites interested in catching all the glittering live action of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium would now have the option of parking their cars at the nearby Safdarjung airport by simply flashing their entry ticket which would double up as parking token. Visitors can then proceed to the free shuttle service bus provided by the Delhi Transport Corporation there to get dropped at the venue and be ferried back to the parking after the event through a dedicated route directly connecting the airport to the stadium.

The new park-and-ride facility comprising temporary parking for 3,000 cars, 6,000 two-wheelers and 450 buses being built at Safdarjung airport by the New Delhi Municipal Council in consultation with the Airports Authority of India is almost complete according to the civic body officials barring last leg of arrangements and final touch-up work.

Temporary facility

According to an NDMC official, “This parking is being made mainly to facilitate Delhiites who are keen on catching the grand opening and closing ceremonies scheduled to be held at this stadium. The parking facilities would, however, be temporary and dismantled after the Games. For this reason we have used pre-cast concrete pavers to construct the parking which can be re-used by the DTC later at their bus depots.”

“We have completed building the parking but the last stage of work comprising installation of jersey barriers to separate the parking from the adjacent airport tarmac as a safety measure can only be taken up three weeks before the Games,” he added.

The project also includes improvement of existing roads and walkways around the airport besides construction of new roads in and around the airport area. Road-widening and resurfacing work has been carried out on Datta Ram Bhutani Marg, Nazaf Khan Road, airport service roads and the approach road between outer and inner gates of the airport.

The project also envisages chain link fencing of the parking area adjoining the main tarmac; horticulture works along the roads; provision of water, sewerage and electricity supply for the parking area; construction and improvement of gates in the parking area; provision of closed-circuit television cameras; and construction of temporary utility structures including public conveniences, public information centres, crew waiting area and security chambers.

The project received administrative approval of the NDMC in October 2009.

According to the civic body, work on the project began in December 2009 and has been completed at a cost of Rs.40 crore borne by the Delhi Government. The development of parking at Safdarjung airport is part of the “Transport Plan” for Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium complex prepared by the Special Adviser, CWG-2010, and was approved by governing body of Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure Planning and Engineering Centre chaired by Delhi's Lieutenant-Governor in March 2009.

CAG says Kalmadi & Co played games in hiring consultants

Skeletons continue to tumble out of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) organising committee’s cupboard.

In an inspection report released on Thursday, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) alleged that dubious procedures were followed in selecting consultants to select sponsors for the event and sell its international broadcasting rights.

The report cites several instances where the organising committee (OC) suffered losses. It says OC hired Fast Track Sales Limited as a consultant for selling international broadcasting rights on the recommendation of chairman Suresh Kalmadi, Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell and CEO Mike Hooper.

As per the report, the hiring without due diligence and deficiencies in services provided by the consultants resulted in a projected loss of Rs24.60 crore for OC.

It notes that Fast Track Sales Limited proposed a higher commission of 15% as against 12.5% offered by Melbourne-based Sports Marketing and Management (SMAM), putting an additional burden of Rs5.2 crore on OC.

The report says OC did not adopt a competitive bidding process while striking a sponsorship deal with SMAM and ended up paying an additional commission of Rs25.31 crore.

A few days ago, OC terminated SMAM contract on grounds of “nonperformance”, a charge the company refuted.

In a report released last year, CAG drawn the government’s attention to the slow progress of all Games-related projects.
Secretary general Lalit Bhanot, however, defended OC decisions.

“It’s an inspection report. Fast Track is a well-known and experienced company. It had successfully worked for Melbourne and other Commonwealth Games,” he said.

Bhanot said: “The end result is they [Fast Track] have doubled the revenue we targetted. We have earned more. We also did not want all contracts to go to one company.”

Commonwealth Games Federation CEO Hooper also defended Fast Track, saying it had a good record.

Irregularities in IOA Bhawan renovation: CAG report

Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, who is also the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president, finds himself in the dock yet again after an inspection report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) revealed that an avoidable expenditure of Rs.4.11 crore was incurred by the OC for renovation of the IOA Bhawan here.

The report also questioned the payment of rent and maintenance charges by the OC to the IOA, amounting to Rs.1.44 crore for use of the IOA Bhawan for a 21-month period between January 2008 and September 2009.

The audit scrutiny also revealed that the OC used its budget to undertake renovation work of the entire 20,000 sq.ft. of the IOA Bhawan, although it actually acquired only 6,750 sq. ft. (33 per cent) of the total space.

It then paid out Rs.4.11 crore, which was in excess of the sanctioned work order of Rs.2.89 crore. However, the irony of the entire exercise was that by the time the renovation was completed, the OC had shifted its offices to the New Delhi City Centre (NDCC) building or the Palika Kendra.

In March 2006, the OC decided to hire additional space at the IOA Bhawan as its premises at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium were inadequate. Violating its own guidelines, which stipulates an advertised tender inquiry process for contracts above Rs.25 lakh, the audit observed that the OC issued a limited tender to 11 companies.

Two firms, M/s Renaissance Furniture Pvt. Ltd. and M/s Salwan Furnishing Company responded to the tender for interior work and furnishing of the IOA Bhawan which, however, did not mention the estimated cost.

The two bids were evaluated and work was awarded to Renaissance at a total cost of Rs.2.99 crore in November 2007, with March 15, 2008, as the due date for completion.

It was also found that the work was completed only in November 2009, a delay of 20 months. The report said that the OC violated its own guidelines for imposition of liquidated damages for default on the part of the contractor by not incorporating such a clause in the contract with Renaissance, thus being unable to penalise it for the delay.

In November 2007, while the tendering process for the IOA Bhawan work was progressing, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) agreed to provide 1.7 lakh sq.ft. to the OC in the NDCC building. In May 2008, the OC paid advance rent of Rs.9.24 crore to the NDMC, and in September 2008 it started shifting furniture from the IOA Bhawan to the NDCC.

It is in this light that the inspection report states that the renovation of IOA Bhawan at a cost of Rs.4.11 crore was avoidable.

Verbal approval

Against the work order of Rs.2.89 crore, the contracted firm charged Rs.5.28 crore, following which a committee formed by the OC to inquire into the claim found the scope of the awarded work was exceeded on the “verbal approval of senior functionaries of the OC.”

It was also observed that most of the furniture was purchased in March 2009, after the OC had shifted to the NDCC building.

OC blamed for excess payment of Rs.1.44 crore

The inspection report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) has criticised the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (OC) for causing excess financial liability, to the tune of Rs.1.44 crore, through the renting of office space at the IOA Bhawan, owned by the Suresh Kalmadi-run Indian Olympic Association (IOA). Mr. Kalmadi is also the Commonwealth Games OC Chairman.

A Memorandum of Understanding, signed by the OC with the IOA, had agreed on payment of a monthly rent of Rs.20 lakh (at Rs.100 per sq.ft.) and monthly maintenance charge of Rs.5 lakh (at Rs. 25 per sq. ft.).

However, the OC's Executive Management Committee (EMC) at its March 2009 meeting reduced the area taken on rent from 20,000 s q. ft. to 6,750 sq. ft. The EMC, however, decided to enhance the rent for the reduced area from Rs.100 per sq. ft. to Rs.150 sq. ft inexplicably, causing the OC to shelve out an additional amount of Rs.74.85 lakh over a 21-month period between January 2008 and September 2009.

Despite reduction in the rented area, the OC continued to pay the maintenance charges for the initial rented area, thus failing to save an amount of Rs.69.65 lakh.

In its reply, the OC defended the loss of Rs.1.44 crore stating that the entire IOA Bhawan, except for a small portion, was occupied by it and that it paid maintenance charges of Rs.5 lakh per month instead of paying it on a square feet basis.

However, the report concluded that the OC's reply was not tenable as the area taken on rent had “reduced significantly by 13,250 sq. ft”.

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