In an article in February, yours truly had predicted that India’s preparedness for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) scheduled for October this year would be well behind schedule, but the famous Indian tradition of ‘jugaad’ would most likely see us through in the nick of time. While this may still prove to be an astute prophecy, one is not so sure anymore. As the games inch closer, the pandemonium exponentially increases. As charges of corruption, organizational inefficiency, delayed and shoddy construction and political muckraking savage India’s attempt to showcase her ‘arrival’ on the world stage, one can only hope and pray that an embarrassment of epic proportions is somehow circumvented.
INR 28,054 crore. That’s USD6.2 billion. That’s what’s been doled out to New Delhi and to sundry agencies to make the games a success. But apparently much of this sum seems to be just governmental largesse. Per the reports from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), several prima facie irregularities are evident. Completion certificates from various stadia are allegedly falsified with quality of work of the games venues being sub standard. It has inquired into more than ten infrastructure projects related to the games and has alluded to inflated prices, poor execution, bribery and manipulated tenders. In a bid to keep the ‘sarkari babus’ happy, many of the stadia have been inaugurated in advance, only to fall apart almost immediately. Part of the roof of the JLN Stadium started leaking soon after its grand opening. The story of the S.P Mukherjee Swimming Complex was also no different. In addition to following the JLN Stadium’s example, it also managed to injure a young swimmer, when loose drainage covers put paid to her test dives. Theres more. Treasurer Anil Khanna announced his resignation after reports that a firm fronted by his son had won the contract to lay the tennis court turfs at the R.K. Khanna Tennis Stadium. In addition, sponsorship deals with Australian and Swiss firms have also come under the scanner and have since been cancelled. Since the political brouhaha started, Suresh Kalmadi has stayed firm, pledging his steadfast loyalty and singing paeans about transparency. However, some of his colleagues have not been so lucky. Organizing committee (OC) members T.S. Darbari, M. Jayachandran and Sanjay Mohindroo stand suspended, accused of corruption. It is therefore no surprise, given the negativity associated with the CWG that let alone tight-fisted private corporate houses, even PSUs are unsure about providing sponsorships.
An all too familiar tale in India, this. Remember the IPL? Power concentrated in the hands of few, with practically no accountability, has led to a long list of disasters. Did we think this time was going to be any different? Add to that the miles of red tape associated with organizing an international event, and you have a potential disaster on hand. At least the IPL delivered an enjoyable product, before things went downhill for the nepotistic Lalit Modi and his coterie. But what has transpired here is just not cricket and Kalmadi may need to do more than just allow independent inquiries to prove he is aboveboard. But apportioning the entire blame at the OC chairman’s door will be folly. A variety of factors are at play here. India has limited experience in handling events of such magnitude, the last being the 1982 Asian Games. The story then was eerily similar; with the then prime minister Indira Gandhi calling on the services of Jagmohan Malhotra for some serious last minute trouble-shooting. One would have hoped for a better performance this time around. Another factor at play is the lack of any interdepartmental connectivity. With multiple government agencies roped in to organize the games, it was imperative that there be a detailed and well-integrated plan for getting New Delhi games ready, both in terms of the sporting stadia as well as the city’s general infrastructure itself, with each government agency clear about its role and involvement. The PWD and CPWD cannot seem to agree on who is responsible for clearing construction garbage, or who is to construct the pavements outside the various stadia. Therefore, equal blame should there be borne by the Delhi Development Authority. While Shanghai has appeared to have gotten a spanking new facelift with the hosting of the Expo this year, New Delhi’s light cosmetic changes leaves many unsure about the positive effects the games have had on the capital. While the new airport and the tube system are fine instances of progress, there are many examples of the glass being half empty. For example, drainage systems, which were to be upgraded, are still in a mess, with less than 20mm of rain enough to wreak havoc in and around the games village and other infrastructures, causing widespread water logging and traffic snarls. The urban poor have been hurriedly cleared away lest the city pander to the western stereotype of being infested with ‘beggars’. Genuine rehabilitation efforts have sadly, not been made. Furthermore, unclear and vague zoning of the city, coupled with the abovementioned abysmal coordination between different government agencies has also led to inordinate delays.
Amid the upheaval in Parliament, with the UPA weakly responding to the opposition’s bay for blood with the argument that much of the CWG planning had been completed in the tenure of the previous NDA government, the Prime Minister’s office has rightly taken charge and things should only improve from here. Time is short and there remains much to be done. The hosting of the CWG in New Delhi is India’s opportunity to announce herself to the world and to showcase the recent positive buzz associated with the country. The event could well end up doing just the opposite. The upwardly spiraling ‘chakra’ logo of the games supposedly depicts the growth of India into a proud, vibrant nation, with her billion people coming together to fulfill their true destinies. In its worst form, it looks like a lot of common wealth fulfilling only chosen destinies. For the rest of us, the CWG will remain a USD6.2 billion question.
A version of this article first appeared in the September issue of 'KINDLE'