Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kalmadi’s wings clipped, 10 officials in CWG panel

In a move reflecting the deep concern in the government over the Commonwealth Games, the role of the Suresh Kalmadi-led Organizing Committee has been further constricted, with the Centre deputing 10 senior officials to oversee critical aspects of the Games.

On his part, Kalmadi said at a press conference that they had been sent on his request - he had asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for officials to help out the OC and cabinet secretary K M Chandrasekhar had obliged.

While Kalmadi argued that the officials would not be taking over the Games, it was difficult to avoid the impression that the OC's powers had been overridden as the senior bureaucrats are empowered to take on-the-spot decisions. What does work to the beleaguered Kalmadi's benefit is that the new entrants will take some of the heat off him.

The decision to depute officials on Games duty came just a day after Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) chief Michael Fennell arrived in Delhi for a last-minute inspection. On Thursday, Fennel gave a thumbs-up to the Games but the Centre did not seem willing to take any chances, moving in on day-to-day work.

A marathon meeting convened by the PM on August 14 had empowered a committee headed by the cabinet secretary to coordinate and oversee OC's functioning while the group of ministers (GoM) under urban development minister S Jaipal Reddy was asked to clear policy and other issues expeditiously. Now the 10 officials are another direct intervention in the Games' preparations.

The officers have not only been assigned venues but also key functional areas like telecommunications and broadcasting as well as procurement. This is in addition to a sub-committee, called the fast-track committee, set up earlier last week comprising senior officials on deputation to the OC.

For the past week, this committee has been meeting to expedite and administer various Games-related functions along with top OC brass including secretary-general Lalit Bhanot and director-general V K Verma.

The 10-member committee comprises central government officials from a range of ministries including urban development, telecom, information technology, civil aviation and the cabinet secreteriat. The officers have been assigned venues including the various stadiums, Games Village and the much-delayed Yamuna sports complex under Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

The officers will be reporting to the cabinet secretary and their mandate is now pretty simple - to ensure whatever is needed is done to complete the venues in time for the Games which are now barely one-and-a-half months away.

The new set of officials will work along with the fast-track committee even as Kalmadi said the development was routine procedure, saying, "Yes, they (the 10 officials) have come but at our request. The OC had made a request that at the fag-end of the Games we need a lot of people. We had requested the PM and the cabinet secretary has been kind enough to give us the 10 officers. They are here for coordination."

Deadline missed to certify Delhi venues

The Indian government has missed a deadline to certify all Commonwealth Games sporting venues are structurally sound and safe to operate following reports of dodgy building practices.

The delay coincides with statements from Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) officials that unfinished work on the 17 venues and athletes' village will be "down to the wire".

Construction crews are working furiously to finish work on the venues with just over six weeks left before teams from 71 Commonwealth countries compete in New Delhi from October 3-14.

CGF president Mike Fennell this week completed an inspection of the 17 venues and the Games' village.

Fennell and Delhi-based CGF chief executive Mike Hooper told local journalists they were pleased with work performed to date.

But Hooper says the federation is banking on assurances from Indian authorities that work will be completed in time.

"Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done and it's going to be down to the wire," Hooper told AAP from Delhi.

"But we're reasonably confident it will be done."

The Games' village is way behind schedule and must be completed by September 16, when it opens to thousands of arriving athletes.

"There's a lot more work to be done there which is disappointing given that this is one of the venues that was started very, very early," Hooper said.

"Still a lot of work to do on the dining hall and kitchen installation and other things required for the Games."

"They think they can get it done in that time."

Hooper said a lot of the venue work to be completed involves landscaping, clearing debris and roadworks.

The continued delays coincide with a missed deadline by the government to certify construction work on all of the venues.

In late July, India's anti-corruption watchdog dropped a bombshell by citing suspected dodgy building practices at a number of Games' venues and accusations that construction firms have inflated their costs.

The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) inspected 15 roadway and sporting venue sites and found substandard concrete and steel works, and evidence that regulatory approvals had been forged.

The CGF responded, requiring the Indian government provide building certificates by Aug 18 that confirm all of the venues are safe to operate.

Hooper said on Thursday that government instead provided a partial list of approvals required to certify each venue.

"What we asked for was to see that effectively all of the requirements (have been satisfied) and they haven't at this stage," he said.

"We have not received all of the certificates we asked for, which at the end of the day culminate in the issuance of a building completion certificate."

In the meantime, the Sports Authority of India has provided a separate document stating that 13 of the 17 venues full comply with industry building guidelines.

Hooper said the government was now expected to supply a list of building construction certificates for all 17 venues by August 31.

Swimming: Injury forces Australian Rice out of Commonweath Games

Australia's triple Olympic gold medallist Stephanie Rice will have shoulder surgery and miss the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October, the emotional swimmer said Thursday.

Rice, in California to compete in the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, said she could no longer swim through the pain caused by inflammation in her right shoulder and would have surgery, probably within a fortnight.

"Obviously it's a big disappointment to me," said Rice, whose week at the PanPacs is also done. "I have to think about the bigger picture, and that's definitely London 2012."

The 22-year-old, who won Olympic gold in Beijing in the 200m and 400m individual medleys and in the 4x200m freestyle relay, was the highest profile member of the 48-strong squad named by Australia in March at the conclusion of their national championships.

But she has battled pain in her shoulder that has hindered her training.

When her shoulder came up sore after she posted a personal best in the 50m butterfly here on Wednesday, she and coach Michael Bohl agreed surgery couldn't be put off any longer.

"As disappointing as it is, I think it's the right decision," said Rice, who broke down in tears when talking to an Australian television crew but composed herself to continue discussing her plans.

"It's going to be really hard to watch the team go away and watch everyone race," Rice said.

She said the surgery would be a "clean-out" rather than reconstruction.

"They have told me rehab is 12 weeks, I guess four weeks out of the water if the surgery goes well," she said.

Despite the disappointment, Rice said it was a relief to have a plan in place, after months of coping with the injury on a day-by-day basis.

But Australian head coach Leigh Nugent admitted her loss was a big blow to the team, but indicated it would be worth it if Rice is at full strength for the 2012 Olympics in London.

"She's the spearhead of our women's team, if not the whole team," Nugent said. "We'll be taking a step backward to take a step forward in the future."

Railways funds for Games after checking credentials: Mamata

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee  Thursday said the Rs.100 crore her ministry promised for the Commonwealth Games would be released only after authenticity of the expenditure was checked with the Games Organising Committee.

Replying to a debate in the Lok Sabha on the supplementary demands for grants of her ministry, Banerjee said the commitment of Rs.100 crore for the Oct 3-10 mega event was made by her in the railway budget in February.

‘This is an important issue. We had promised Rs.100 crore in the budget. But we have not yet worked out the modalities of how the funds should be given for the Commonwealth (Games). We will give it only after checking the credentials of the expenditure,’ Banerjee said.

She was responding to a volley of questions raised by MPs, including Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Harin Pathak, during the debate.

Pathak initiated the debate and sought to know how the railway funds for the Games were being used in the wake of allegations of corruption related to the super sporting event.

He said some public sector units were withdrawing their sponsorship of the Games as suspicions were raised that funds were being diverted to favour some individuals.

‘Since the PSUs are withdrawing sponsorship, the Games Organising Committee has identified the railways, State Bank of India and Air India to get the funds. The allegations of corruption have raised suspicion that the funds meant for the Games are being diverted for personal gain,’ he said.

This was Banerjee’s first appearance in parliament since her Aug 9 rally in Lalgarh in West Midnapore district where she made a controversial statement on Maoists by raising questions about guerrilla leader Azad’s killing in a police shootout.

She attended the house for the supplementary demands for grants worth Rs.489 crore for her ministry. The demand was granted by the house through a voice vote after her nearly 30-minute speech in the Lok Sabha.

The Trinamool Congress chief has invited criticism from opposition parties on the rising number of train accidents, her long and continuous absence from Delhi and her running the railway ministry from West Bengal where assembly polls are due next year.

22 complaints of CWG irregularities with probe agencies

A total of 22 complaints related to alleged irregularities in various Commonwealth Games related projects have been received by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the Rajya Sabha was informed Thursday.

Replying to a question in the upper house, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan said that eight complaints regarding alleged irregularities were received by the CBI and 14 such complaints were received in the CVC.

Chavan said the CVC, as part of its routine work, has undertaken intensive examination of works related to the Games.

"The commission in its inquiry found that works were awarded at higher rates and the quality was also not up to the mark. Further, ineligible agencies were also awarded the works," said Chavan.

Guilty will be punished after Games: Sonia (Lead)

Breaking her silence on charges of murky deals involving the Commonwealth Games, Congress president Sonia Gandhi Thursday said those found guilty would be punished after the event and exhorted everyone to make the Games successful.

Describing the Commonwealth Games as a matter of national pride, she said the event was not related to any political party or individual. "It was a matter of national pride and efforts should be made to hold them successfully, she said here.

Addressing the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP), Gandhi, however, made it clear that that those found guilty of corruption in projects related to the Games should be punished after the event.

She also referred to the Group of Ministers set up by Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh to look into the preparations for the Games and asked everyone involved to make the Games successful.

This was the first meeting of CPP since the monsoon session of parliament began July 26. Gandhi is set to be re-elected as the Congress president in the party elections scheduled for Sep 17.

Gandhi also voiced her concern over the situation in the Kashmir Valley and said efforts should be made to reach out to the people of the region.

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