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Retrofit: Delhi losing patience with Commonwealth Games…

Guest Column
Retrofit: Delhi losing patience with Commonwealth Games…

Author | Sandeep Bamzai | Wednesday, Mar 31,2010 8:39 AM

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Guest Column<br>Retrofit: Delhi losing patience with Commonwealth Games…

Delhi as a metro is not big on graffiti. But lately, one sees its scrawl on the newly designed bus stops. The legend inscribed is worrying – Pro rich, anti poor, CWG sucks. On Sunday evening, I was part of a panel on a Hindi channel, where the subject for discussion was the very sensitive and emotional Commonwealth Games and how the city’s hoi polloi has had to bear the cross due to it. Weighed under an unprecedented price spike, the Delhi budget has come as a double whammy after the Union Budget to crimp the very existence of the metro’s denizens. A modern survival kit is a must to negotiate the minefield that the city’s rising cost of living has unleashed. There are parts of Delhi which could be used as a location for ‘Lost’. A sharp increase in VAT, LPG and diesel prices is acting as a major deterrent. While the panel degenerated into a virulent political debate since Congress and BJP leaders were present, what was scary was the level of anger displayed by the audience. The live programme saw sparks fly as people’s ‘aakrosh’ grabbed centrestage. And guess what, the Sheila Dikshit Government is paying for the inefficiencies of the Suresh Kalmadi-led Commonwealth Games Organising Committee.

While all of us are being debilitated due to the time and cost overruns of the CWG organisers, Suresh Kalmadi remains unperturbed. A Commonwealth Games infrastructure summit being held under the aegis of The Times of India in the Capital saw the ‘teflon man’ Kalmadi as always paint a pretty picture. In his inimitable carefree style, on Monday, he sought to defend delays in completion of venues, saying preparation for such a mega event is always time consuming and the country cannot present “half-cooked meals” to the world.

“We are organising a major sporting event in the country after a gap of 28 years, after Asian Games in 1982. It’s a big challenge for us. You need to present a world class event when the whole world is watching. You need to showcase everything on a large scale. You cannot serve half-cooked meal,” Kalmadi said. Mr Kalmadi, Delhi bagged the right to host the Games in Montego Bay in November 2003, eight years ago. Right now, there is a mad scramble to complete the Games infrastructure. “We are not lagging behind. All venues are ready, barring JLN stadium and Yamuna Sports Complex. The work would be over by June 30. You need to understand when a city organises any international sports event, it takes five to 10 years to prepare itself,” Kalmadi added at the summit. Yeah, sounds good. But Delhi resembles a war zone with massive dislocation of the city’s ground zero status. Its innards lie open all around. There are cranes and excavators strewn all over the city’s face.

On Tuesday morning though, a more realistic assessment came from Associated Press, which said that the Commonwealth Games buildings were running behind schedule in India on Tuesday morning. The report, which I am reproducing here, provides an honest on the ground assessment, “A countdown clock outside the Commonwealth Games offices shows 192 days left until India hosts the 17-sport event. But the city still looks like a messy construction site. The main stadium is months overdue and remains a tangle of cranes, and residents are furious over new taxes to pay for the Games. Meanwhile, dozens of construction workers have died and hundreds of thousands are labouring in unsafe conditions in the rush to prepare the city for the Games, a court-appointed investigation said.

“India hoped that by hosting athletes from the 71 countries of the Commonwealth, the former British Empire, it would boost its global image and become a contender for the Olympics. Now, with the October 3 start date approaching, many are wondering whether it’s worth it. ‘For poor people there are no benefits from all this,’ said Ramesh Dubey, a sidewalk vendor angry over a proposed hike in cooking gas taxes. ‘This whole show is by rich people and will only benefit rich people.’ Suresh Kalmadi, head of India’s organising committee, has promised that problems will be resolved. “With the support of the Governments of India and Delhi, we are doing everything to produce a great Games,” he told visiting Commonwealth delegates this month.

“Numerous hurdles remain. The main Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, which is to host the opening and closing ceremonies and the main track events, is a giant shell. Dozens of labourers ferry cement and bricks in baskets on their heads. Cranes dot the sprawling complex, and the road around it is a dug-up mound of dirt. There are similar scenes at the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee swimming complex. Both complexes were supposed to have been finished by December. “Certainly it’s cutting it very, very fine with Jawaharlal Nehru stadium and the swimming stadium,” said Mike Hooper, the CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation, who is in New Delhi helping oversee the preparations. The stadiums are now scheduled to be finished in June.

“If they don’t adhere to these new revised deadlines, then we do have real concerns about the operational delivery and the pressure it will put on the organising committee,” Hooper told The Associated Press. Many New Delhi roads are lined with mounds of rubble, often forcing several lanes of traffic into a single, chaotic one. New construction projects crop up every few weeks. An attempt to clean up Connaught Place, a collection of colonial-era buildings at the heart of the city’s business district, has choked shops in the area.

“A once-busy book store managed by Puneet Sharma is now mostly deserted, surrounded by scaffolding and rubble that has blocked access. “They have known about the Games since 2003 and yet we were given no notice about when work would start in our area,” Sharma said. “It’s all very unplanned and haphazard.” Indian organisers insist the construction and roadwork will be wrapped up by the end of June.

“There have been some delays,” accepts Rahul Bhatnagar, a senior official from India’s Sports Ministry, who is overseeing the preparations, “but the venues will all be done well in time for the test events and the main Games.” The cash-strapped government is pumping in more money to the nearly $3 billion event. The national government said it was lending the organisers an additional $150 million to pay for fixtures and equipment required at the venues. As the government scrambled to meet the new deadlines, allegations have cropped of negligence and abuse at the building sites.

“A panel appointed by the New Delhi High Court said that at least 43 workers were killed because of dangerous work sites and a lack of proper safety gear. The report said nearly 415,000 contract workers at construction sites related to the event were not paid adequately by private contractors and were forced to work overtime for no extra money. The government says it will monitor the construction agencies to ensure all labour laws are followed.”

I am surprised that Indian media, which is preoccupied with frivolous stories, seems untouched by what is happening in the Capital. As AP says, there isn’t much time left, the race to meet the deadlines is putting added pressure on the city’s creaking infrastructure requirements. The sheer apathy towards Commonwealth infrastructure and its status is shocking. Though I did see something on roads the other day in ToI. I guess somewhere Suresh Kalmadi’s famed networking skills are showing, he has media in his corner as they turn a blind eye to what is a colossal cock up. It is clear that we have no sense of time. Look at Sreedharan’s Metro, see the pace of work and the manner in which sites are restored after the work is completed. It is a lesson for one and all. And certainly for one Mr Kalmadi, who is a smooth talker, always glibly talking his way out of trouble. But most of all, I worry about the Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium, the showpiece of the Games. I wonder whether it will be handed over after October 3… 192, 191, 190 days and counting.

(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.
The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)

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