Saturday, August 14, 2010

PM reviews progress of CWG; guilty to be punished

Faced with scathing criticism relating to the preparations for the Commonwealth Games, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today convened a high-level meeting which took a series of key decisions in this regard, including asking the concerned agencies to complete the pending works and conduct thorough investigations into all the complaints that have been received of ''procedural and other irregularities''.

The Prime Minister categorically stated that those found guilty should face ''severe and exemplary punishment''.

Dr Singh asked the Group of Ministers set up for the Commonwealth Games, headed by Minister for Urban Development S Jaipal Reddy to meet ''immediately and frequently''.

The Group was empowered to take all decisions necessary for the smooth conduct of the Games.

It was directed that the Group of Ministers will refer any matter that may require further consideration to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for a final decision.

The meeting was convened to review the preparations for the Games scheduled to begin on October 3.

The meeting was attended by Minister of Urban Development S Jaipal Reddy, Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports M S Gill, Lt Governor of Delhi Tejendra Khanna, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister T K A Nair, Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, Chairman, Organising Committee, CWG Suresh Kalmadi and other senior officials.

The Prime Minister was briefed by the Ministry of Sports, the Ministry of Urban Development, the Government of Delhi and the Organising Committee on the progress of Commonwealth Games preparatory works assigned to them.

Dr Singh observed that there had been slippages in time schedules of some of the construction works and deficiencies had also been observed in some of the works.

He said in the run up to the Games, it was important to gain public confidence by instilling order and carrying out effective supervision of the preparation works.

The Prime Minister announced his decision to visit selected venues of the Commonwealth Games in the last week of August.

He directed the Ministries concerned, the Government of the National Capital Region and the Organising Committee to complete all pending works expeditiously through time-bound action plans and carry out a quality audit of the completed facilities.

All the facilities must meet international standards, he added.

The Prime Minister expressed confidence that the ongoing preparations supervised directly by the Group of Ministers would enable the Games to be conducted smoothly and in a ''befitting manner''.

The Cabinet Secretary was directed to liaise closely with the Group of Ministers to ensure effective coordination among all concerned authorities.

The Committee of Secretaries headed by the Cabinet Secretary would continue to review implementation and will have the status of an Empowered Committee.

It would have jurisdiction over matters relating to the Organising Committee and a Secretary-level officer of the Cabinet Secretariat would liaise with the Organising Committee on a daily basis.

The Prime Minister asked the Organising Committee to take appropriate steps urgently to conclude all pending preparations.

The Senior Management Committee of the OC would meet daily and be chaired by CEO in the absence of Chairman or Vice-Chairman, Organising Committee.

Additional senior and experienced officers from the Government of India would be deputed as required.

The Cabinet is to be briefed on the state of preparations on a weekly basis.

Dr Singh said the public has a right to know the facts and the Group of Ministers would ensure that ''timely and authentic'' information on the state of preparation and in particular on the remaining tasks at hand is released to the public.

The Prime Minister said promotional campaign of various events should be stepped up to generate enthusiasm among sports lovers in the largest sporting event the country has held in many years.

''The eyes of the world are on the country as we conduct this prestigious event,'' he added.

He further said the Commonwealth Games was an occasion not only to celebrate sporting excellence but also the spirit of kinship and camaraderie among the Commonwealth fraternity.

India will have an opportunity to ''present its culture, its achievements, its warm hospitality and its organisational capabilities to the world,'' Dr Singh stated.

He emphasised the importance of country's citizens working together to give ''our honoured guests a warm welcome and a memorable experience of all that our nation has to offer''.

''Our athletes and sportsmen are training hard and need full support and encouragement of their fellow Indians,'' Dr Singh stressed.

He urged all concerned to work single-mindedly so that the Games could be held in a manner the nation could be justifiably proud of.

PM puts Kalmadi on Games leash

Suresh Kalmadi today lost his free hand in running the Commonwealth Games after the Prime Minister stepped in to rescue the showpiece event from the delays and corruption charges that have marked its preparations.

Manmohan Singh put all policy decisions relating to the event’s management “directly” into the hands of the group of ministers (GoM) he had set up for the Games a few months ago, and appointed Pranab Mukherjee the final arbiter in any dispute.

Kalmadi, the Games organising committee chief, has so far functioned independently, refusing any decisive say to the GoM and defying all the ministers involved in the event’s preparations, including sports minister M.S. Gill. The involvement of a heavyweight such as Pranab is bound to have a sobering effect on him.

Singh also decided that the organising committee must work in tandem with a bureaucrats’ panel headed by the cabinet secretary, which will ensure implementation of the policy decisions. The panel will interact daily with the organising committee through a secretary-level official from the cabinet secretariat.

The Union cabinet must be given weekly briefings, and Singh will himself visit select Games venues in the last week of August.

Sources said the government might later draft a few senior officials, or a politician, into the organising committee itself.

Although the Prime Minister did not technically form an apex committee to oversee the preparations, the day’s decisions mean that what has so far been the Suresh Kalmadi show has been unambiguously turned into a government event.

Forming an apex committee, or sacking Kalmadi, are apparently ruled out by the agreement signed between hosts India and the Commonwealth Games Federation in 2003.

This afternoon, Singh heard out the parties involved in the Games preparations and made it clear that he was not satisfied with the organising committee’s functioning. He therefore delegated greater authority to the GoM without explicitly saying that Kalmadi’s wings were being clipped.

The Prime Minister directed the ministries concerned to probe all the complaints about procedural and other irregularities, adding that those found guilty should face severe punishment.

At the end, he expressed confidence that “the ongoing preparations supervised directly by the group of ministers would enable the Games to be conducted smoothly and in a befitting manner”.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after the 90-minute meeting said: “The GoM will refer any matter that may require further consideration to the finance minister for a final decision.”

It also said: “The committee of secretaries, headed by the cabinet secretary, will continue to review implementation and it will have the status of an empowered committee. It will have jurisdiction over matters relating to the organising committee.”

Today’s meeting was attended by Union urban development minister Jaipal Reddy, who heads the GoM, Gill, Delhi lieutenant governor Tejendra Khanna, chief minister Sheila Dikshit and Kalmadi as well as other organising committee officials. Also present were cabinet secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar and the principal secretary to the Prime Minister, T.K.A. Nair.

Singh told the meeting that some of the construction projects had slipped behind schedule and suffered from deficiencies, and that the organising committee must take steps to complete all pending preparations.

TV rights: targets, claims vary

Much has been talked about during the past year about bulging revenues, and the Organising Committee (OC) officials continue to claim that they have exceeded targets and expectations as far as television rights for the Commonwealth Games are concerned.

The recent CAG report pointed out a loss of Rs 24.60 crore because of the engagement of Fast Track, a London firm, as the agency for selling broadcast rights even though it had claimed a higher commission than a second agency in the fray.

Excellent record

In defence, both the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) which recommended Fast Track, and the OC, pointed out the excellent track record the British company had and the eventual achievement it could show by procuring record rights fee for the OC.

The CGF said that Fast Track had “surpassed our dreams” and “not only met but exceeded all our targets”.

The OC Secretary-General, Lalit Bhanot, also endorsed that view.

According to the CAG report, Fast Track had finalised deals amounting to 42.87 million dollars and was processing another agreement worth 3.36 million dollars with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for UK/Ireland territory rights. This indeed is a very good amount for a Games that can only get a limited audience world-wide.

The OC stated that the total was almost double the projected target of 30 million dollars. But a look at India's original bid document presented to the CGF meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2003, tells a different story.

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) bid projected a revenue of 66.60 million dollars from broadcasting rights.

In fact the CGF Evaluation Commission, headed by Mr. Dick McColgan, notes in its exhaustive report presented to the CGF Executive Board and Commonwealth Games Associations in October, 2003, in respect of the IOA bid: “Television revenues (USD 67m) appear to be overstated compared with past achievements.” (In contrast, the Evaluation Commission termed the figure of 15.59 million dollars given by Hamilton, Canada, as its television rights expectation as “conservative”.)

The IOA also projected 100 million dollars from sponsorships in its bid document. Today, despite claims of having nearly doubled the television rights, the OC is poised to fall well short of its revenue target that has to help it return the “loan” of Rs. 1620 crore taken from the Union Government for the conduct of the Games.

Add another Rs. 678 crore as an additional “loan” under ‘overlays”, then the OC gets into further squeeze.

The OC has also sought another tranche of loan amounting to Rs 720 crores for the conduct of the Games, citing cost escalations and unforeseen additional expenses.

A M Films didn't have director when CWG OC accepted its bid

Until 48 hours before Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (OC) chairmanSuresh Kalmadi  directed his subordinate M Jeychandren to release of payments for A M Films UK Limited, the company did not have any director or employees, according to documents with TOI.

The decision of the OC to hire this little-known firm to supply outdoor display units for the October 29, 2009, Queen's Baton Relay inauguration in London without any proper contract and subsequent release of payment is now under investigation.

A key figure emerging in the probe is Ashish Patel — better known as Ash Patel — the only shareholder of A M Films and several other obscure firms. In fact, he has been a director or secretary in seven different companies, but A M Films seems to be the only functional firm.

Documents from the Companies House, the UK government's official registrar of companies, show that A M Films UK Ltd was without any director for a period beginning September 9 to October 22. It had a paid-up capital of £1 and one share held by Ash Patel. In other words, it was pretty much a one-man shop.

Ash Patel doubled up as both company secretary and director. It was on March 14, 2010, a second person appears on the company's documents — Ravilal Naran Bhanderi who is shown as marketing director. Strangely, on the same day, Ash Patel resigned as the director.

On October 22, 2009, just seven days before the QBR London function, Ash Patel joined back the company as its sole director. In the one-month period that the company did not have any employees or director, A M Films was not dormant — it had submitted a bid on October 2 to the OC. The bid was addressed to Sanjay Mohindroo, now suspended OC top official, who appears to have had a familiar relationship with Patel.

On October 23, a day after Patel re-joined A M Films, Mohindroo wrote out a two page note selecting A M Films for the contract. "It is seen that the rates of M/S AM Films are the lowest... It is therefore recommended that the contract may be awarded to M/S A M Films UK Ltd. Approval of chairman OC (Kalmadi) has been solicited," Mohindroo's note said.

Games: Manmohan orders probe into ‘irregularities'

For the first time since the preparations for the Commonwealth Games (CWG), scheduled to kick off in Delhi on October 3, began to receive adverse notice, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered the Ministries concerned to investigate all “procedural and other irregularities.”

“Those found guilty,” he said, “should face severe and exemplary punishment.”

However, sources said that it was unlikely that any action would be forthcoming – at least not till the Games are over.

The Prime Minister's directions came at a high-level emergency meeting that he called on Saturday to review the status of preparations for the Games, following a meeting on Friday of the Congress Core Group on the same subject.

At this meeting – as at Friday's – the consensus was that Organising Committee (OC) chairman Suresh Kalmadi, who is facing a series of corruption charges, should not be replaced, but that he should be reined in. Government sources said the feeling was that “it was not possible to change horses mid-stream,” and that while Mr. Kalmadi could be accused of many things, he could not be faulted on “efficiency, experience and exposure.”

So, till the Games, the Cabinet Secretary-headed Committee of Secretaries — which was already reviewing CWG-connected works — will be transformed into an Empowered Committee with “jurisdiction over the OC.” To further clip Mr. Kalmadi's wings, a Secretary-level officer of the Cabinet Secretariat will liaise with the OC daily.

Simultaneously, the Group of Ministers (GoM) set up for the CWG, headed by Union Minister of Urban Development S. Jaipal Reddy, has been told to disseminate “timely and authentic information on the state of preparations and in particular on the remaining tasks.” The sense was that neither the Opposition onslaught nor the barrage of media stories should be allowed to distract or demoralise the officials and those connected with the conduct of the Games.

It was also made clear that there would be no new oversight committee: instead, the GoM has been “empowered to take all decisions necessary for the smooth conduct of the Games” and “directed to meet immediately and frequently thereafter.” This empowerment, however, has one caveat: it will “refer any matter that may require further consideration” to Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee “for a final decision.” This, sources sought to underplay by saying it referred only to financial matters.

Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar has also been asked to liaise closely with the GoM to “ensure effective coordination among all the concerned authorities.” Those who attended the meeting included Mr. Reddy, Dr. Gill, Delhi Lt. Governor Tejendra Khanna, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister T.K.A. Nair; Mr. Chandrasekhar, and Mr. Kalmadi.

Special training to deal with women tourists for Games

 "A woman is travelling in your taxi. Along the way, you stop and another man gets into the seat next to you. He is your friend. The customer objects. How will you respond?'' This is one of the many practical examples cited by a 200-page Gender Appropriate Behaviour Training Manual brought out by the Delhi Commission for Women that allows stakeholders in the Commonwealth Games to search for answers and solutions themselves as they undergo training that sensitises them to gender issues.

The target group includes policemen, hotel staff, tour operators, transporters, tourist guides, security personnel, volunteers, Bed & Breakfast service providers, media and healthcare personnel.

Interestingly, the manual breaks away from the usual practice of giving out a list of dos and don'ts or the various laws. Instead, it takes the practical route with real-time examples of situations that may arise when dealing with people, particularly tourists.

"Two women are waiting in the queue for a taxi at the airport. Some taxi drivers are trying to get their attention. Suddenly, one taxi driver grabs one of the women tourists by her elbow and starts pulling her towards his taxi. Nobody helps the woman. She is upset and calls for help. What will be your response as police personnel on duty keeping in mind the law of the land and code of conduct?''

Another example states, "A woman is standing on a bus stand. She is begging before two foreigners. The foreigners get irritated and push her away. She falls and starts crying. Some people gather and the situation becomes tense with the foreigners shouting and the woman crying even louder. How will you as a police officer deal with the situation in view of the laws and code of conduct?''

The chapter meant for owners of Bed & Breakfast establishments gives an example related to appropriate behaviour with guests. It elaborates on a situation where a couple from a foreign country stays at a B&B accommodation. But the host family discovers that they are not married. The elders of the host family disapprove of this and raise the issue in a manner that upsets the guests. The manual presents the situation before the group that is undergoing training so that they can look for answers and work out a solution.

Loaded with examples and put together as a practical training manual based on an interactive approach, the manual is being seen as a guide to appropriate gender behaviour both during and after the Games. DCW, chairperson, Barkha Singh feels that the issues related to gender are the responsibility of all the departments.

"Various departments conduct training programs for their staff members and we think that addressing gender concerns during the training is very important. The manual is hence designed to suit different training needs, schedules and participant groups,'' she emphasised. Expressing concerns over instances of people's indifference towards foreigners and local populace, Singh said training related to appropriate gender behaviour is actually the need of the hour.

City roads still dug up, MCD gets the jitters

With 49 days left for the Commonwealth Games, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has claimed that it is yet to begin upgrading of 30 major roads for the Games. According to the civic agency, these roads still have to be handed over by other agencies, which are currently carrying out digging activity. The MCD claims that it will need at least 15 days to relay these roads before the Games.
Said an official, "As the deadline for digging has been extended till August 20, it seems unlikely that these stretches will be handed over to us before September first week. We will then take at least 15 days to finish the work. If the handing over of roads is delayed even further, it will become impossible for us to upgrade important stretches.''

According to officials, many agencies like discoms, DMRC and MTNL have currently dug up these stretches to carry out drainage work, lay cables, etc. "To ensure quality work, other agencies have to give us enough time to relay the roads. Rain might lead to more delays in the road improvement work. Keeping all these factors in mind, the roads should be handed back by September first week.'' Some of the roads where improvement work still has to be taken up include Subhash Road, Ansari Road, Church Road, Minto Road, Maharishi Balmiki Marg, main Chandni Chowk road, roads in and around Karol Bagh and Paharganj, roads around Delhi University areas, etc.

Said leader of House, Subhash Arya, "We wanted to complete the work of relaying roads by August 31 as that is the deadline given by the Delhi government for completing all Commonwealth games-related projects. However, as digging is allowed till August 20, this cannot happen on 30 major stretches. The areas where majority of these roads are located include Delhi University, City and Karol Bagh zones.''

NDMC is yet to start the work of relaying the roads in CP as well. The civic body has claimed that it will complete the task of relaying the roads in the area by August 31. It had earlier planned to construct concrete roads in the area. However, the plan was dropped as concrete roads take more time to settle. The agency will carry out digging of roads again after the Games.

Exemplary punishment for CWG corruption: PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday stepped in to rescue the Commonwealth Games by putting the Suresh Kalmadi-led Organizing Committee under the supervision of an Empowered Committee and authorizing a GoM to speed up decisions for the mega event.

The PM also promised "severe and exemplary" punishment of the corrupt and asked all ministries to investigate all complaints of irregularities in an effort to restore the people’s faith in the crisis-hit Games.

A statement issued by his office quoted Singh as telling participants of the review that the "eyes of the world were on the country as we conduct this prestigious event". Sources said that the full-scale probe pledged by the PM would have to wait till the Games are over.

The remedies offered by the PM are in line with what TOI suggested in a full-page report on August 13.

The review meeting was held after the Congress leadership took serious note on Friday of the embarrassment the Games threatened to become.

Although wary of taking over preparations at this stage and because of the rising perception of sleaze, the party leadership asked the PM to find a way to salvage the Games. The OC remains in charge but will have to contend with the committee of secretaries.

A statement issued by the PMO stressed that the committee will be empowered to exercise "jurisdiction over matters relating to the Organising Committee", signalling that from now on the Games may cease to be the exclusive domain of the Kalmadi Club. The statement stressed that the preparations would be "supervised directly" by a Group of Ministers which will meet regularly. Besides, a secretary-level officer in the Cabinet Secretariat is to review the situation on a daily basis with the OC.

While a direct takeover of the Games would have been a logistical nightmare at this late stage and an avoidable political risk, Kalmadi and Co. are very much under watch. The cabinet secretary has been told to liaise closely with the GoM.

The decision to closely review and even override if needed OC chairman Suresh Kalmadi’s functioning is significant as time for finishing touches at venues and installation and checking of systems ranging from furnishings, cabling to displays is running out. Similarly, fast-tracking of acquisition of equipment related to broadcast of the Games is required. PM Manmohan Singh seemed to acknowledge the huge credibility deficit dogging the Games when he told the review meeting at his residence that "it was important to gain public confidence by instilling order and carrying out effective supervision of the preparation works".

To address problems posed by multiple agencies and poor coordination, Singh asked the GoM headed by urban development minister S Jaipal Reddy to "meet immediately and frequently thereafter". The GoM, which is empowered to take all decisions crucial for the Games, has been directed to secure clearances, whenever necessary, from finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. The GoM will meet on Sunday.

Delhi 2010 top brass visits competition venues

Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi Vice-Chairman Randhir Singh and Secretary General Dr. Lalit K Bhanot have been visiting the competition venues over the past four days to review the state of readiness of various stadia and to address issues reported by the media about the delay in construction work at various venues.

Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi led the visit to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium Complex.

The Organising Committee top brass ensured that the entire venue operations team, comprising of various functional areas, started the process of carrying out the work required for the delivery of the games.

"You have been charged with the task of making these facilities really world class," Kalmadi told the venue operations team in Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium Complex.

"The successful delivery of the Games is in our hands and the Organising Committee completely depends on you to ensure that all the planning is actualised," he added.

Randhir Singh told the team present at the venues - including venue owners and other agencies - that there was no luxury of any delays now and that work assigned must be carried out within the given timelines.

"Given the levels of commitment and passion that I see, I am confident the teams will deliver. There is no room for complacency," he said.

The top brass felt that the stadiums are generally ready in all respects, especially the fields of play. However some issues requiring immediate attention are clearing and cleaning of the area outside the venue, landscaping, cabling.

"I believe that the issues will be resolved by August 16," Randhir Singh said.

The top brass has visited Talkatora Indoor Stadium, Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium Complex, Siri Fort Sports Complex, Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Ranges, Indira Gandhi Sports Complex and Yamuna Sports Complex.

It held a briefing for the team so that they could highlight issues and remedial action be suggested on the spot.

PM chairing meeting on CWG (Lead)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday met Sports Minister M.S. Gill, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and other ministers to discuss ways to control the damage over the controversies surrounding the Commonwealth Games and to ensure the Games' smooth conduct.

The meeting began at the Prime Minister's Residence -7 Race Course Road - around 5 p.m., official sources said.

The meeting is likely to formulate a coordinating mechanism or oversight system for the Games, just 50 days away, the sources indicated. Gill is likely to be involved in the new set-up, they added.

Besides the PM, Gill and Dikshit, Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy, Delhi Lt Governor Tejinder Khanna, CWG Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi and senior officials, including Cabinent Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar and Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, were attending the meeting.

The prime minister convened the meeting a day after the Congress Core Committee met here to discuss the CWG controversies and asked him to take steps for the smooth conduct of the Games. Indications are that the government may not replace Kalmadi, the sources said.

A suggestion that the cabinet secretary be tasked to coordinate the CWG preparations in the remaining period is also being considered by the prime minister, sources said.

The preparations for the Oct 3-14 Games have attracted adverse media coverage for the delays in construction works and alleged corrupt deals by the Organising Committee, led by Kalmadi.

Kalmadi has denied the charges and said he was ready for scrutiny. Opposition parties led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left have called for Kalmadi's resignation and an explanation by the prime minister on the floor of parliament.

Kalmadi can't be touched till the Games are over

The Lok Sabha debate on the alleged corruption and delays in the construction of venues for the Commonwealth Games saw some unusual trends that seem to have escaped the media's attention.

First, no one has attacked Organising Committee president Suresh Kalmadi inside the House, though most opposition leaders oblige the byte-hungry TV correspondents with juicy lines, exactly the way they are told to parrot.

Second, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the ruling Congress fielded young guns to initiate the debate. Then, curiously, none of the Delhi MPs spoke on the subject. Kalmadi, himself a Lok Sabha MP, was seen explaining to Lal Krishan Advani his case with a sheaf of documents to buttress his arguments.

If BJP's Kirti Azad used similes to lampoon the CWG officials, Congress spokesman Manish Tewari's cut-and-dry logic was simple and devastating. His line that money lost because of alleged corruption in Queen's Baton Relay was only a fraction of the total expense may not have impressed many, but he was clearly making the point that some vested interests were clutching at straws.

Kalmadi's bete noire Mani Shankar Aiyar wanted Sports Minister Manohar Singh Gill to head a Special Committee to oversee the working of the Organising Committee (OC) like Buta Singh did during the 1982 Asian Games.

Gill rejected the idea stating that it is too late in the day to change horses midstream, not because the publicity-hungry former chief election commissioner would not like to preside over the Games or honestly believes that one more committees is not the answer. He knew the real answer and said so in his reply to the debate -- that the OC derives its power from the Indian Olympic Association and the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), not from the government. Thus it is not all that easy to oust Kalmadi who is the points man for CGF in organising the Games.

All this doesn't mean the charges are baseless. The expenditure on some counts is preposterous, but that is expected when things are delayed deliberately so that you can have your hand in the till in the name of adhocism.

If the BJP's criticism of Kalmadi and the OC is muffled, it only shows how the sports bodies function in this country and how even the hardcore politicians close their ranks irrespective of their party affiliations when it comes to sport.

Screaming anchors and rampaging experts on television keep referring to how Buta Singh was brought in by the then government and how Rajiv Gandhi and his buddies set everything right in no time. If the 'babus' then could get the work done, this time, too, the government could have stepped in to get the infrastructure ready in time. After all, it was its agencies that have to deliver.

Just like the professional mourners today are crying hoarse about the wastage of money in beautifying Delhi, 28 years ago farmers' leader Charan Singh was furious with the spurt in construction of flyovers and road widening. As deputy prime minister he actually got the Games plan scuttled and it was left to a member of his ruling Janata Party, Vijay Kumar Malhotra to revive it, getting 200 MPs cutting across the party lines to sign on a petition to then prime minister Morarji Desai.

Malhotra was made the chairman of the Asian Games Organising Committee (AGOC), but before he could take charge of his new assignment, the Janata Party government was voted out. Indira Gandhi was back and she said she  would clear the Games only under her dispensation and not Malhotra's. IOA had to sacrifice Malhotra and the AGOC accounts were frozen with some Rs.60 lakhs in the kitty. Technically, Gandhi could not usurp the powers of the AGOC and so an Asian Games Special Organising Committee (ASGOC) was set up to organise the Games. Malhotra went to Delhi High Court seeking to transfer the money with the AGOC to AGSOC account.

Charan Singh continued to question the wisdom of constructing so many flyovers when all that the Games needed was a couple of stadiums! Soon after the Games, the stadiums turned white elephants and the flyovers relieved the traffic congestion in the city!

All those who think that it was Indira Gandhi who got first V.C. Shukla and then Buta Singh as chairmen of the AGSOC do not seem to realise that both were the appointees of the Indian Olympic Association by virtue of being its members. Shukla was the president of the wrestling federation and Buta Singh headed the athletics federation. Certainly, they were not the nominees of the Congress party just as the party now insists that Kalmadi is there by virtue of being the IOA president and not as a party man. Raja Bhalendra Singh, father of CWGOC vice-chairman and IOA secretary-general Randhir Singh, was then the IOA president.

It is funny that both the AGOC and AGSOC on paper are still functional nearly three decades later. K.S. Bains, a retired bureaucrat and secretary general of AGSOC, still has an office only to fight one pending court case.

It should also be remembered that Malhotra is the president of the archery federation and his party colleague Yashwant Sinha is president of the All India Tennis Association (AITA). The president of the All India Football Federation is Praful Patel of the Nationalist Congress Party and the table tennis and boxing bodies are headed by the Chautala brothers, Ajay and Abhay. The late Pramod Mahajan's right-hand man and a well-known BJP stalwart, Harish Sharma, is the powerful secretary-general of the Basketball Federation of India. The list can go on and on. Has anyone heard any of these opposition leaders baying for Kalmadi's blood?

They will not hound Kalmadi because they know the reality and the constitutional position. Come to think of it, some of the most lucrative contracts have gone to BJP businessmen. The only BJP leader who is attacking the OC chief is former union minister Vijay Goel because he has been removed from the OC and he is instrumental in compiling a booklet of charges.

Malhotra is resisting the pressure from some of his colleagues to seek Kalmadi's resignation. Malhotra understands the politics of sport and realises that the conduct of the Oct 3-14 Games successfully is his prime concern, not dumping Kalmadi, though as the opposition leader in the state assembly he makes no bones about his dislike for the Delhi chief minister.

The volatile electronic media that made OC joint director general T.S. Darbari a villain and saw to it that he was sacked for his alleged role in the questionable spending during the Queen's Baton Relay ceremony in London, is hailing him as a hero after he turned an "approver" of sorts by shifting the blame to Kalmadi to prove his innocence.

The immediate offshoot of the Darbari episode is that none of the OC  officials are willing to take any responsibility of taking charge of the overlays equipment at various venues. As one official told OC top brass, he can't afford to buy blood pressure and ulcers by allowing sections of the prying and uninformed media to shatter his domestic peace by levelling all sorts of imaginary and factually unsubstantiated charges.

The OC found an immediate way out of the non-stop media vilification, particularly on certain TV channels, by requesting officials of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to function from the OC Headquarters and check each and every scrap of paper relating to the Games expenditure. One only hopes the two agencies are not the next victims.

CWG glitches: Guilty to be severely punished, says PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh  on Saturday said those found guilty (of corruption in Commonwealth Games preparations) would face severe and exemplary punishment.

In a meeting with ministers concerned and other stake-holders to take stock of the preparations for the mega event to be held in October, the Prime Minister directed the ministries concerned to conduct thorough investigations into all complaints received with regard to procedural and other irregularities in CWG preparations.

The meeting was attended by sports ministers M S Gill, urban development minister Jaipal Reddy, Delhichief minister Sheila Dikshit, Commonwealth Games Organising CommitteechairmanSuresh Kalmadi and some top government officials.

Singh reviewed the preparations for the Games which will be held from October 3 to 14 in the midst of questions being raised over the state of readiness and allegations of corruption surrounding it.

There have been slippages in the time schedules of some of the construction works and deficiencies have been observed in some of the works, Singh said on the CWG preparations. He will visit select venues of Commonwealth Games in the last week of August.

With merely one-and-a-half months to go for the event, number of CWG venues are still not ready with construction still underway. This has raised doubts whether these venues would be ready by the time the Games start.

Kalmadi is also in the eye of a storm because of the allegations of corruption in grant of tenders and procurement of equipment for the games.
The Prime Minister's action came a day after the Congress top brass, including party chiefSonia Gandhi and him, deliberated on the matter at the meeting of the party's Core Group.

The issue of preparations and allegations of corruption was even raised in Parliament this week, with demands that a high-level oversight committee be appointed on the lines of the one formed during the 1982 Asian Games.

Such a committee at that time was headed by late Rajiv Gandhi with the then Sports MinisterButa Singh working under him along other officials.

The BJP yesterday demanded that the Prime Minister speak on the issue failing which it would press for suspension of Question Hour in both Houses of Parliament on Monday.

Dikshit meets Sonia, apprises her of CWG preparations

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit Saturday met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and apprised her of the preparations for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, a source said.

She will also meet other top politicians to explain about the arrangements being undertaken for the mega sporting event Oct 3-14.

Later in the evening, a high-level meeting has been called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the Games.

It will be attended by Dikshit, Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi, Delhi Lt. Governor Tejendra Khanna, Sports Minister M.S. Gill, Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy and Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar.

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