Monday, August 23, 2010

Now, DDA under scanner over CWG pools

It is not just the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee that stands accused of inflating payments and manipulating tender processes.

The story of how four training swimming pools, including two at the Commonwealth Games Village, were constructed by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) is one of blatant price escalation, allegations of tainted tendering and could now end with the embarrassment of the pools not receiving required certification on time.

As authorities rush to ensure that the pools get their certification ahead of the Games, the Central Vigilance Commission's technical examiner has begun to scan contracts, especially for filtration equipment procured by DDA which is now facing the prospect of some serious questioning.

The construction of the four swimming pools, the main one and a leisure pool at the Village and one pool each at Siri Fort and Yamuna Sports Complex, has seen DDA shelling out almost 20 times the price for filtration equipment compared to similar projects completed recently.

The filtration equipment for DDA's Chilla Sports Complex swimming pool, which has a larger capacity with similar specifications, was completed in April for about Rs 27 lakh. As of now, DDA is paying over Rs 5 crore for each of the main training pools.

When the pre-qualification estimate was done for filtration plants for the first time in September 2008, the estimate was a combined Rs 3.25 crore for the main and leisure pool at the Village. And Rs 2.5 crore each for the pools at Siri Fort and Yamuna complex.

The already high rates went up to Rs 3.19 crore in estimates when the chief engineer (electrical) initiated the process for inviting tenders in a few months time. But that was not the end. Towards the end of 2009, the cost for the filtration plant and other accessories went up to Rs 5.09 crore a pool.

DDA did not reply to a detailed questionnaire sent by TOI on August 16 on the entire issue.

What makes matters worse, said sources familiar with the contract, DDA may not be able to secure mandatory certification from Fidiration Internationale de Natation (FINA), the international body administering swimming standards, before the Games begin. Luckily, Talkatora stadium, the venue for swimming competitions, has obtained certification in time.

Along with the astronomical increase in cost, the tender process was delayed. From the time pre-qualification estimate was prepared, it took DDA more than a year to issue a tender at the end of 2009. Starting work late seems to be a common feature of all Games projects just as emergency clauses are then invoked.

The selection of manufacturers of the filtration equipment is also mired in controversy. In the initial tender document, there were three firms, but just one seemed a genuine manufacturer. At least one pre-qualified bidder who objected was disqualified, sources said.

Documents with TOI show that Pentair, a firm that reportedly makes filtration equipment in Spain, found its way into the final list of manufacturers. The then member (engineering) of DDA noted on file that the "basis (for inclusion) of Pentair has not been substantiated", and added "this be kept on record".

According to documents, a part of records that are part of a CVC inquiry, Pentair probably does not manufacture big filters and systems required for the Games and they have not possibly catered to Olympic size pools. A mandated inspection of the manufacturing plant in Spain was never undertaken by DDA.

On December 21, 2009 when the post-bid meeting was called, those who submitted tenders were given blank technical documents to fill up including mentioning makes of equipment. Pentair found its place in these documents. Despite all this and the inflated bills, the pools are yet not ready.

After CWG, Pune demands probe in CYG

The embattled Commonwealth Games organiser, Suresh Kalmadi’s woes just don’t seem to end. Now, there is a demand in his home constituency, Pune, that the accounts of the Commonwealth Youth Games, held in Pune in 2008 — also led by Mr Kalmadi — be reopened. The CYG had to be held in Pune because facilities in Delhi were not ready.

Along with the CYG accounts, there are other events with which Mr Kalmadi, Pune’s sitting MP, is associated with. The Pune International Marathon and the Pune International Film Festival are two others and there is a demand that grants these events received from the relevant departments be checked, too.

Responding to these demands, the state’s finance minister, Sunil Tatkare, said he will get the details from the concerned departments and take action in the next 15 days. “I am going to ask all the departments, like sports and culture, to submit all receipts and accounts. Every department must follow the guidelines laid down and I will ensure that these are enforced when it comes to auditing accounts,” Mr Tatkare told reporters at a hurriedly called press meet. However, there was no pre-determined agenda for the meet.

Among the events for which the state government gives grants are literary meets and the accounts of these have also either not been submitted or have been submitted in brief. In the case of the CYG, the bill for Rs 425 crore is on one sheet of paper and over Rs 300 crore comes under the single head `infrastructure’ , the minister said indicating indifferent approach of the organisers in maintaining accounts.

Mr Tatkare, incidentally, belongs to the NCP headed Mr Kalmadi’s mentorturned-arch foe—Sharad Pawar. In a rather curious turn of events, the CWG issue has brought two of Kalmadi’s bete noires—Mr Pawar and former chief minister and the minister for heavy industries Vilasrao Deshmukh—together . Mr Deshmukh’s last week said that none of the PSUs under his ministry will join the list of sponsors for the CWG.

Rain, rain, save face and come again Hunt for ‘excuse’ to defer Games

Like a cricket team facing defeat, some of those involved in Commonwealth Games preparations are looking to the rain to escape embarrassment.

Officials have told The Telegraph that if the heavy rains now lashing Delhi continue well into September, it would be impossible to finish the preparations in time for the October 3-14 event.

But that could be a “blessing in disguise”, an official said. It will provide India with the perfect excuse to get the event postponed, thus securing an honourable exit from a messy situation, he explained.

The unending rain, the heaviest in a decade, has further hobbled Games preparations just when the government had stepped in to speed up work and save India the blushes on the international stage. Yet the rain would not have mattered had the preparations been on schedule right from the beginning.

Those most enthusiastic about a postponement, therefore, are officials from the government agencies engaged in Games-related construction, whose tardy and substandard work have already embarrassed the country globally.

At a meeting with the group of ministers (GoM) for the event, held on August 15, agencies such as the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) created a buzz about a possible postponement. They told the GoM it would be difficult to complete construction if the rain continued till September 10 or 15.

The India Meteorological Department has forecast heavy rain in north India for September as well.

A postponement is certain to cause the government a loss of face, for the Games have never been put off before and were cancelled only twice — because of the Second World War — in 1942 and 1946.

Yet, if the rain continues and these agencies throw up their hands, the government may be presented with a fait accompli. It will then have to recommend a postponement to the Commonwealth Games Federation, which too will be left with little option.

Sources said the likely date for a deferred Games could be end-October or early December to avoid a clash with the Asian Games, scheduled in November in Guangzhou, China. A deferred Commonwealth Games could lose many athletes to year-end events in their disciplines.

The pro-postponement camp may be helped by the dengue scare in Delhi, which has received wide international coverage and moved the GoM to express concern at the August 15 meeting.

Dengue cases have been reported even among the labourers and engineers at Games sites, particularly the Games Village and the Vasant Kunj flats that will house foreign visitors such as media technicians and team support staff.

The Yamuna floodwaters are now threatening the Games Village. At the meeting, the GoM was informed that “it appeared... that (only) 3,000 of the 5,000 (DDA) flats” at Vasant Kunj would be available. “The dining hall was not ready and as a standby, the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) was planning to erect a hangar for the dining hall.”

Landscaping and levelling is still on, debris is strewn about, the electricity is erratic and “the area is infested with mosquitoes”, the minutes of the meeting say. The GoM was told that if work on the flats extended beyond September 10, it would be difficult for ITDC even to put up makeshift arrangements by September 15, when teams are expected to start arriving.

“It would be an understatement to describe the situation as alarming. It is calamitous,” a senior official associated with Games projects said.

Sources said the Australian and New Zealand teams had indicated they would prefer to train in Singapore and arrive in Delhi a few days before the opening ceremony.

The home ministry and Delhi police have expressed reservations about having to put in place security apparatus at a short notice.

“It’s impossible to carry out security drills with construction continuing at nearly all the sites, with labourers flitting in and out of stadiums,” an official said. The home ministry had wanted at least 90 days for the security drills.

For now, many are praying to the weather gods. Whether for more rain or less is anybody’s guess.

Goel: Remove Kalmadi, set up all-party committee

Opposition party BJP is now demanding that the Commonwealth Games needs an all-party face to instil confidence in the public.

National secretary Vijay Goel met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday and asked for the immediate removal of the organising committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi and the formation of an all-party committee that would look into charges of corruption in the Games.

"The Games have been riddled with corruption and mismanagement and I presented the PM with a memorandum that stated the real position of the preparation and where all the organising committee and the local government have made money. In the 30 minutes that we were together, I told the PM of all that has transpired since 2003 till now in terms of preparation for the Games. The PM gave me a patient hearing and assured me that he would look into the matter," said Goel.

Goel added that in view of the massive mistrust among people regarding the government and the way the Games projects have been implemented, it was necessary to have an all-party involvement in each step.

"It is necessary to present a united face of all parties before the public so that their faith is restored. For things like inspections and the inauguration ceremony, a joint-party forum should be involved," he said.

The game guys: England's Commonwealth team head for Delhi despite terror threat

England's best athletes have flocked to its colours for the Commonwealth Games, ignoring terror threats and the example of double world champion Jessica Ennis.

Exactly one hundred accepted selection on Monday, including all but three of the medallists at this month's European Championships. Only heptathlete Ennis and 400m medallists Michael Bingham and Martyn Rooney will be missing.

Going to Delhi for England are European champions Mo Farah, Phillips Idowu and Andy Turner - Dai Greene goes for Wales - as well as defending Commonwealth champions Lisa Dobriskey and Christine Ohuruogu, the Olympic 400m champion. Farah will run both events he won in Barcelona, the 5,000m and 10,000m.

Organisers there will be heartened by the English response after the disappointments of losing Jamaican athletes Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell and British cyclists Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton.

They might have feared more would stay away after it was revealed last week that Metropolitan Police advisers had warned the Commonwealth Games Council for England of possible attacks on 'soft' targets in India in an effort by terrorists to deter foreign athletes. But none of those missing gave security as a reason.
Commonwealth Games

The three Barcelona medallists excused themselves on the grounds that continuing their competitive season until October would mean starting their winter training for the more important World Championships next summer too late.

Jenny Meadows, an 800m medallist in last year's world championships who also declined, has an inflamed achilles tendon which needs rest and treatment before her winter training can begin.

Dobriskey, 26, admitted she was keen to compete because of her experience four years ago in Melbourne. 'It was the highlight of my career. I loved every minute of it,' said the defending 1500m champion, who will also compete at 800m.

'You get very few chances to go to multi-sport championships. The Olympics is the only other one. They're so different from being in a hotel with the athletics team. It changes the sense of occasion.

'There's a noise and a buzz that goes with it. If you can experience that before the London Olympics, it gives you a kind of boost.'

Ohuruogu has been selected on reputation because she has not run a race since the first week of June when she pulled a quadriceps muscle. In spite of her brief season she ranks behind only Jamaicans at 400m this year.

In Berlin, Caster Semenya made it three wins out of three yesterday after 11 months on the sidelines following a series of gender tests.

The South African, who returned to competitive action last month, finished in 1min 59.90sec, ahead of Kenya's Cherono Koech and Italian Elisa Cusma Piccione, one of several competitors who continued to question whether Semenya, 19, belongs in the sport after her success in the final of the 800m at last year's World Championships.

But Semenya's coach Michael Seme said: 'It's up to them to say and do what they want to. As long as the organisers invite us, there is no problem.'

Asked whether Semenya was concerned about what was being said, he responded: 'No. We don't even care about the past, we're just looking forward to new things.'

Semenya's next race is at the Notturna di Milano in Italy on September 9.

Made like a note, tickets hard to fake

Tickets to the Commonwealth Games  that you buy from August 25 onwards will have all the hallmarks of the Indian rupee note. Literally. Specially designed to make counterfeits impossible, the tickets, like the rupee, have been printed on the same paper with a corresponding watermark and security thread that runs through it. To make copying tougher, the tickets have been printed at the same press in Nashik as the rupee bank notes, said organising committee (OC) sources.

According to OC officials, one of the problems that plagued the Beijing Olympics was the presence of fake tickets. In fact, thousands had been duped by a fake ticket website scam — a situation that OC officials said they did not want replicated in the CWG.

A senior OC official said: "Tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies are the most in demand, followed by events like hockey, athletics and gymnastics. The possibility that fake tickets will flood the market just before the Games was high. So, we wanted to ensure that the tickets sold by the OC were distinct, easily identifiable and impossible to copy."

Not surprisingly, printing of the tickets at the Nashik press was also delayed. As a result, sale of tickets was postponed to August 25 from August 1. Sources claimed that the ticket, in which the new symbol of the rupee was to be inducted, took time to be printed as the font was not yet available from the government.
However, the tickets are going on sale from August 25, with the OC throwing open retail outlets across the city. In the third phase, people will be able to buy tickets from the venues itself. Till now, tickets were available only on the OC website.

The rapid sale of tickets to the opening and closing ceremonies has contributed to 25% of the total sales so far, said OC officials. Among the sporting events, hockey is the front-runner, accounting for 14% of the tickets sold till date, followed by athletics at 11% and gymnastics at 10%. Swimming is at the fourth spot with a 8% share of the sales, said OC officials.

OC officials admitted that sale was slow, though the opening of retail outlets were expected to push up the figures. They, however, were confident of selling the entire stock of 17 lakh tickets ahead of the Games. At the retail outlets, direct purchases can be made and those holding vouchers can also procure actual tickets there.

Dirty sewer water will stay till the Games

Delhiites will have to wade through murky waters at least till the Commonwealth Games as the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) plans to clean the sewerage pipes only after the sporting extravaganza. Lutyens' Delhi would also not be spared of suffering due to frequent road cave-ins that have been
happening due to leakages from the old rusty pipelines. The civic body is going to clean the 64.5 km sewerage pipes using super sucker machines but only after October.

Most of the sewer pipelines in Lutyens' Delhi are quite old and many have never been cleaned.

"The sewerage network of NDMC area is very vast, approximately 350 kilometres, which was mostly constructed before the country gained Independence. While minor cleaning has been done from time to time, the major work has not been done. We have now decided to clean them," said a senior NDMC official.

The civic agency had taken up the task of cleaning and desilting a few years ago with the help of machines.

The phase I of the work was over and the agency has begun the second phase with a total estimated budget of Rs 6.5 crore.

Mukesh Bhatt, a member of the NDMC council, said, "We discussed the matter whether to take up the cleaning work immediately or wait till the games are over. Considering so much of construction activities already under way, we didn't want to add to the chaos."

"We are also very busy with games-related work and it would have overburdened our staff."

According to the civic agency, once the work is completed more than 62 localities in New Delhi will benefit from it.

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