Friday, August 27, 2010

Something positive about CWG

Missed deadlines, leaking stadiums, zero hotel bookings, corruption scandals, flooded roads, absentee athletes, Connaught Place looking like bombed-out Baghdad and Swagatham as our Waka Waka. Every day the bad news about Delhi Commonwealth Games gets worse. Is there any thing about the Games that’s untouched by controversy?

We decided to be optimistic and asked around for something positive about the Games. Interestingly, all answers had one thing in common… the phrase ‘at least’. Lyricist Gulzar, who was in the city, groped for words before saying, “At least Delhi is getting to host such a prestigious event.” Farid Ahmad Nizami, a lawyer in Nizamuddin Basti, said, “The dug up roads are an eyesore but at least you will see the difference after the Games, if not before.”

Commonwealth GamesAuthor Anuja Chauhan said, “The Games have given all Delhiites a feeling of oneness. We are united, at least in our outrage against the R 28000 crore scam being pulled here.” Madam Kamini, a eunuch in Shahdara, said, “The Games-wallas are eating money but kam se kam (at least) they are doing some work.” Gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi has a different take: “Lots of escort services and sex workers will be coming to Delhi to cater to the Games’s visitors. At least Delhi will finally know what professionalism is.”

Ram Lalla, an auto driver says, “Kam se kam sadak toh chowri kar rahe hain auto ke liye (at least I can drive my auto on wider roads now).” “Every publishing house is coming out with good, focussed creative works on Delhi,” says Sheema Mookherjee, senior editor, HarperCollins India. “At least, these books will last longer than the the Games.”

Even former union sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, the most eloquent voice against the Games, has finally something good to say. “The Commonwealth Games have at least given Delhi an excellent airport (the new T3 terminal),” says Aiyar, “to fly out of once they start.”

Will the Commonwealth Games be held at all?

The relentless digging is all that Delhi has to show in the name of the Commonwealth Games. Everything else is hidden - shrouded in mystery and intrigue.
Amid all the troubling talk of corruption and a benumbing lack of transparency, there are pressing questions the nation is asking: will the extravaganza be held on time and will it be held at all?

For a poor country, Rs 65,000 crore being spent on the extravaganza is a lot of money; is it being spent well? Who will gain most from it - the Capital, India's sportspersons or politicians and builders?

Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta talk about the intransigence, the false promises and the mad budgets that have come to symbolise the event

The Commonwealth Games have been dismissed by many as a posthumous celebration of a long-forgotten Empire. Others have mistakenly played up their potential to revive Indian sport, offering rosy visions of an assembly line of Indian sportsmen and women turning us, overnight, into the next China.

This is all just window dressing. At their heart, the Commonwealth Games are about the politics of development and the raging ambitions of a rising India that so animate the middle classes and many decision makers in this country.

Fuelled by the unrelenting fear of global ridicule that so drives our weak egos - and by the colour of money - politicians, bureaucrats and India's sports czars have taken the citizens of Delhi on a ride that will change their city forever. India must show its best face, we are told.


So, how much will the Commonwealth Games cost us? That is the first big question that this book grapples with. It is not an easy question to answer because the work is spread across diverse sectors and the money is being spent by a bewildering morass of multiple agencies.

To enter the story of the Commonwealth Games is to enter into a labyrinth of overlapping controls - Ministry of Sports, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Tourism, Government of Delhi, Planning Commission, New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Sports Authority of India (SAI), Delhi Development Authority (DDA), the Organising Committee and so on.

There are several high-level committees to coordinate their work, but like it often happens in government, many things remain unclear to the very end. The result is that even many among those involved in organising the Games do not have the full financial picture in front of them, with each government agency pursuing its own targets.

The financing of the Commonwealth Games has been the subject of parliamentary questioning since 2004. Parliamentary records show that at the time of government approval for the Games in early 2003, the Games budget estimate had been only Rs 617.5 crore.

This was a very preliminary original estimate and the Vajpayee government agreed to fund any future shortfalls between revenue and expenditure. It was a virtual blank cheque. By March 2003, when Delhi submitted its official bid, the cost estimates had tripled to Rs 1895.3 crore.

As Sunil Dutt, the sports minister at that time, told the Lok Sabha in 2004, everybody knew that these were only early projections that could only go up later. By 2005, the estimated costs had shot up by more than six times from the original figure.

By 2008, the minister of sports was estimating a figure of over Rs 7,000 crore and in 2009, the comptroller and auditor general provided a calculation of about Rs 13,000 crore. This was more than twenty times the original cost estimate and even this figure did not include spending by many agencies.

In early 2009, we were discussing these rocketing estimates with a senior Delhi government official when he dropped a bombshell. We had met about something else over lunch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The Games came up in passing and he listened to our calculations before calmly pointing out: 'The total Games spending on city infrastructure is Rs 65,550 crore.' It didn't square at all with any of the other financial data.

But he was way up in Delhi's power circle and clearly knew what he was talking about. So we asked him for a detailed breakdown and there it was in fine print: Rs 65,550 crore clearly marked in an internal Delhi government note on what it calls 'Commonwealth Games-related work'. The state government subsequently published these figures officially and when clubbed together with other costs, they pushed the total amount to more than Rs 70,000 crore.

Our problem was that between 2003 and 2009, this estimate on infrastructure spending calculated by Sheila Dikshit's government did not figure in any of the data submitted by successive sports ministers in Parliament or in the internal records of the organising committee that were made available to us.

This new information, passed on by the office of Delhi's chief secretary, had us completely flummoxed. Why was it invisible? A close analysis of the financial data reveals that the Games infrastructure budgets submitted in Parliament between 2003 and 2008 had only listed a little over Rs 1,300 crore (for building civic infrastructure) against the Delhi government's name.

This was the amount that the Delhi government said it needed extra funding for, asking the Planning Commission for a grant. This was the amount that got reflected in budget estimates by sports ministers in Parliament, instead of the state government's total Games-related estimate.

The Delhi government and other agencies were spending far more from their own coffers - the CAG also pointed this out - but this spending escaped all other reporting.

The organising committee and Central government budget records, therefore, never reflected the rest of the Rs 65,550 crore that was being spent on the Games. If you include this amount, overall Games expenditure estimates shoot up to a whopping Rs 70,608 crore. This is more than 114 times the original calculation made in 2002!


Some might say that much of the money would have been spent anyway. Projects like new power stations account for nearly half of this budget and is it misleading to account for these in a CWG estimate? No, it is not.

There is good reason why the office of Delhi's chief secretary chose to put all these costs under the heading 'Projects Related to CWG 2010'. This is their language, not ours. The fact is that most of this infrastructure construction is being put on the fast-track only because of the Games and the kind of money that is being spent on Delhi's infrastructure would not have been possible in ordinary times.

Power, for instance, is being fast-tracked due to the lofty promise of showcasing a capital city with twenty-four-hour power during the Games. Delhi is to be India's marquee. Delhi may still have its miracle, but there were structural reasons for the quagmire it found itself in, just a year before the Games.

The story of the Games Village characterises all that went wrong and deserves a close look. In 2003, Delhi was in serious danger of losing its Games bid to Hamilton, the Canadian city that hosted the first version of the Commonwealth Games in 1930 (it was called the British Empire Games then).

In a two-horse race, both cities submitted detailed plans to the CGF in May 2003. When they were opened, Delhi found itself on the back foot on one of the most important questions that determine sporting mega-events: legacies and long-term impact on the city.

Hamilton had put the local McMaster University at the centre of its Games concept. It put academic partnerships as the second-most important objective of the Games and the university was slated to benefit from the entire new infrastructure that was to be built.

The Games Village and three of the other five new sporting venues that Hamilton proposed were to be built on the 300-acre campus of McMaster University. The idea was to create a permanent legacy of world-class and accessible sporting infrastructure for students in this small city of 500,000.

Sheila Dikshit now sets Sept 15 as deadline for CWG venues

The Commonwealth Games deadline has just been pushed back, yet again. On Friday, Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit announced that, god willing, the Games venues would be ready to be handed over only by September 10-15. This means the venues will be ready just about a fortnight before the Games.
After the venues are handed over, a lot of work would have to be done. Apart from fine-tuning facilities, dry runs would have to be carried out to check that all systems are alright. "This is as fine as it gets," said an official with the Organizing Committee. "Another slip-up and we'll be done for."

Dikshit said heavy rain had prevented work from being completed in time, which is August 31. Actually, that was the fourth deadline to have been set after the first date of March 31 was missed. For most of this period, when civic agencies were supposed to be hard at work, there was no rain.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a function, Dikshit said: "Aisa lagta hai ke Indra devta humse kuch naraaz hain. (It seems the rain god is unhappy with us.) I will appeal to him to him bring some sunshine so that work can be completed." If rain stopped, she said, work would be wound up by September 10-15.

Apart from giving the finishing touches to the stadiums, mounds of debris will have to be cleared from the venue sites. This is the third deadline set by the CM for removing the debris. Last month, she had set August 10 as the deadline, which was extended to August 31, and now to September 10-15. Incidentally, India was awarded the Commonwealth Games seven years ago, in 2003.

The new deadline has been set after various agencies involved in construction activities conveyed to Dikshit that they will not be able to complete their work within the next four days. On the pile of debris, she said that a lot of it has been already removed and agencies have been asked to urgently remove the rest. She added that if they are not able to abide then the government would step in to ensure that it is removed. Dikshit said a total of 145,000 metric tonnes of debris has already been removed.

While raising anxiety levels seriously by extending the work completion deadline, Dikshit assured that all the work related to the Games would certainly be completed before October 3. Of course, if that doesn't happen the Games will turn out to be a mega embarrassment for India.

The city government had undertaken projects worth over Rs 15,000 crore to improve infrastructure in the capital for the Games. The pressure on it to complete construction has been growing with each passing day with most of the projects already missing deadlines.

On Thursday, Jaipal Reddy, head of the group of ministers overseeing the work related to the Games, said what has been whispered for the past fortnight - there will be further delay in the handover of the venues to the OC.

It's not the first time that deadlines have been missed by the agencies involved in the preparations. Without exception, every agency entrusted with construction and refurbishment of existing venues has missed each deadline set - from the first one set in November/December 2009 to succeeding ones in March 2010, June 31, July 31 and now, August 31. The deadline now has been extended from August 31 to the first week of September.

The reasons have been varied. In some cases, like the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, the reason was the addition of a tunnel for the performers, an order that was placed in October 2009, further pushing the deadline for the main stadium, which will be hosting the opening and closing ceremonies besides athletic, weightlifting and lawn bowl events. In Siri Fort sports complex, the reason was a court case for the cutting down of trees and the proximity to the heritage Siri Fort wall. Later, it was the delay in laying FOP (field of play), which construction agencies said hadn't been made available by the OC yet, as the committee hadn't floated tenders to engage the companies.

This time, Reddy says it's the rains and the delay in delivery of containers for the overlay work. On Thursday, Reddy said that it would be a "minor" delay of a "couple of days". "The schedule is not met strictly. It is being delayed by a couple of days because of rain and because of delay in delivery of containers," said the UD minister.

Incidentally, the August 31 deadline was set as the last minute work - specifically the laying of cables for security set-up as well as for the communications and technology functions by ECIL and MTNL respectively, hadn't been completed yet.

At that time, the government had said that the cabling would be completed in a month's time - that is, by August 31. On Thursday though, Reddy said the cabling had still not finished.

"The main focus was the work to be done by MTNL, TCIL and Prasar Bharati. All of them have given comprehensive reports," said Reddy, adding, "At the end of the day, the communication network is the most important thing. It was reviewed and we are satisfied that we are on schedule."

The statement is ironic considering the GoM has been expressing satisfaction with the progress of work for some time now. Sources say that work at several stadia like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Yamuna sports complex, are still to be finished.

"It will take at least another fortnight for the work to be completed, if the rains stop," added the official. However, with the weather going contrary, it's not a state of affairs that seems to be available any time soon. Officials say they expect the venues to be ready only by September 15, less than a fortnight before the Delhi Games 2010 take off from October 3.

No fire clearance yet for 8 C'Wealth Games venues

The Commonwealth Games (CWG) are just 37 days away, but half the venues are still to get a clearance certificate from the Delhi fire services.
“Sixteen venues have to be given fire clearances before the Games and for the practice sessions, but only eight have been cleared,” a senior official from Delhi fire services told DNA.

The fire department has given clearances to Thyagaraj stadium, Dr Karni Singh shooting range, Chhatrasal stadium, Ludlow Castle stadium, Talkatora stadium, two blocks of Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, the resident block of Games village and the Yamuna Sports Complex.

Stadiums like Indira Gandhi Sports Complex, Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, Siri Fort Sports Complex and RK Khanna Tennis Complex are yet to get fire clearances.

The delay in clearances has been attributed to the delay in completion of work at venues. “Fire clearances should have been given at least few months ago. It will take another 10 days to clear the remaining venues,” the official said.

“Our officers are constantly inspecting sites and preparing daily reports,” the official said.
The fire department gives updates on fire safety plans to 10 officers who have recently been appointed by the Centre to assist the Games organising committee.

Apart from conducting fire safety drills, the fire department is installing sprinklers, fire pumps, hydrant systems and automatic detection systems
at the venues.

Commonwealth Express comes to town on Sunday

The special train would have touched 49 cities in the country after it completes its run

KSRTC to operate special services for people to view the exhibition

The special exhibition train promoting the coming Commonwealth Games (CWG) to be held in New Delhi will reach Mysore on Sunday, after covering 33 cities across the country. The exhibition will be open to public from Monday.

The Commonwealth Express Exhibition Train was flagged off by Union Minister for Railways Mamata Banerjee on June 24 as a special gesture by the Railways to promote the event. The special train would have touched 49 cities in India after it completes its run.

Senior Divisional Commercial Manager Anup Dayanand Sadhu told presspersons here on Friday that the exhibition train would be stationed at Ashokapuram and the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation would operate special bus services to help people view it.

He said priority would be accorded to students. All schools in the city and surrounding regions had been notified and the scheduling for each institution had been done to prevent overcrowding. “We expect around 60,000 students to view the exhibition and learn about the CWG that will be held in Delhi from October,” said Mr. Sadhu.

The special train, comprising 11 coaches, will give a comprehensive picture and information about the CWG. The first coach will give a brief introduction on the Games, the participating nations, the mascot Shera and the Queen's Baton Relay. The second coach will give details on the venues and games and will showcase models of the various stadia while the third one will display sports gear and the calendar of various sporting events.

The fourth coach of the Commonwealth Express will present over 5,000 pictures and images of the past CWGs, medallists in the Asian Games, Olympic medallists and world champions, while the fifth coach will focus on how the Indian Railways is nurturing budding sportspersons. The remaining coaches will highlight the growth and the success story of information technology in India.

Mr. Sadhu said the train would be stationed on Platform No. 1 at Ashokapuram. Priority would be given to school students from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. while it would be open to the general public between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.


Security arrangements will be stepped up at the venue of the exhibition and a control room has been established to monitor the crowd. The Mysore Division will also felicitate three sportspersons from the city — Poojashree (tennis), Tejaswi (chess) and Srinivas (table tennis) — on the occasion.

Tour de Delhi all set to take off

Organizers of the Tour de Delhi on Friday announced the international participants for what is set to be the Capital’s first International Cycling Union (UCI)- sanctioned road cycling event. It will also be a test event for the Commonwealth Games road race that is to be held on the same circuit.

Due to the unprecedented rain, the track has been cut down from 13.7 km to 8 km, but according to UCI official, Jamaluddin Mahmood, the track is still one of the most picturesque.

“We have inspected the circuit and it will be great for the racers and audience. We hope that the construction that is left will be completed by tomorrow,” he said.

The international race will see eight international teams from Europe, Africa and Asia battle it out against 24 Indian riders. A further 122 national-level riders will compete in the lower category.

Cycling Federation of India officials spoke about the delays in procurement of cycles for the national team.

“The final payment for the cycles has been made and they will arrive within a week. This will give the team enough time to get accustomed to the new bikes,” said SS Dhindsa, president of the federation.

Asked to respond to reports in HT about the delays, Dhindsa placed the blame on the Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India. “We had asked for the equipment three years ago. The delays have been on their part. Finally, we decided we’d ask the cyclists what bikes they want and place the order.”

In response to another report, Dhindsa said, “I have no say in selection and have never used influence to keep a performing athlete out. We maintain though that our campers take priority and that will always be the case until the policy changes.”

No deadlines, Delhi will be ready for Games before Oct 3: Dikshit

Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit Friday confirmed that the Aug 31 deadline for completion of Commonwealth Games-related projects will not be met but said that Delhi will be ready for the mega sporting event before Oct 3 or 15 days earlier, provided the sun shines and the rains stop.

After inaugurating a parking site at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium here, Dikshit acknowledged that the incessant rains have been an obstacle in meeting the deadline, but at the same time refuted rumours that the venues will not be ready in time.

"We have full faith in our authorities that they will ready the venues on time, but incessant rains are hampering the progress of preparations of the venues. And we pray to the rain gods to have mercy on us," Dikshit said.

The chief minister asserted that the Oct 3-14 Games are a national and not a political issue.

"We have beautifully engineered the city, not only in areas in the vicinity of the Commonwealth Games village and venues, but also areas lying far outside," she added.

On removal of debris from across the city, she said the work will be done by Sep 10 and so far 145,000 tonnes of debris have been removed from various areas of the city.

Earlier, Dikshit had set Aug 10 as the deadline to remove the debris.

Goverment exempts C'Wealth Games helium balloons from customs duty

Helium balloons, touted to be a star attraction at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games, will now be exempted from customs duty, the finance ministry said today.

The ministry has withdrawn customs duty on the balloons, technically known as Aerostats, along with equipment used for their deployment, sources said.

Aerostats will be deployed at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for the upcoming Commonwealth Games.

However, these balloons will have to be imported by suppliers, contractors, vendors or sub-vendors of the organising committee of the Commonwealth Games, they said.

The exemption is a part of the government's move to remove customs duty on sports goods and equipment imported for the Commonwealth Games.

Earlier, in February this year, the government removed customs duty on various sports goods like arms and ammunition for shooting events, broadcasting equipment imported by Prasar Bharti for telecasting the spectacle and doping control equipment.

The Commonwealth Games are scheduled to be held in New Delhi from October 3 to 14 this year.


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