A Commonwealth shame
Mani Shankar Aiyar may or may not be comforting an old grouse by mouthing curses for Commonwealth Games 2010, but he does have a point that is getting sharper even though he has now vowed silence till the Games are over.
At the outset, let’s put one thing in perspective: no body in their right mind would be against an international event coming to India. It undoubtedly makes for great pride and is a golden chance to showcase the emerging superpower that we believe we are. An event such as this also gives the economy a push by creating jobs and infrastructure apart from promoting sports.
And usually it gets the country excited and galvanised. Only till now we haven’t really experienced that which is why we need to take a hard look at what is happening around us in the national capital.
To begin with, why did India win the bid? Not in the least because we were the ‘jewel in the crown’ or because we have world class sporting culture and infrastructure. Economic powerhouse may be an answer, in a twisted way though - India won the bid for the Commonwealth Games by promising that it would provide USD 100,000 to each of the 72 participating countries, along with air tickets, boarding, lodging and transport.
Forgetting the eight Indian states that are poorer than 27 poorest African countries for a moment, 100,000 dollars is no big deal for a country with a billion-plus population harbouring global dreams. But why would so much money be risked in order to hold a sporting event which is no more than a relic of the Raj, held lightly even by Britain? And some may say by Indin authorities too considering Kalmadi couldn’t even persuade the BCCI to postpone the cricket matches which will clash with the Games. There go a few thousand eyeballs…
To be honest, the Commonwealth Games have neither the magic of FIFA, nor the old world charm of Olympics. With no Usian Bolt, Andy Murruy, Chris Hoy and Asafa Powell to watch, who will come here to watch group dancers perform in regional attires? And a truth that may again hurt our sense of national pride, most of these players are skipping Commonwealth Games because they have to participate in far more significant events - World Championship in 2011 and Olympic Games in 2012, as admitted by Bolt himself.
Not only that, there are innumerable reasons that are painting the organizers - and in turn us - in an extremely poor light.
Broken Green Promise
The CWG organizers had signed a MoU with the UN to host a "sustainable and environment friendly” Games. But petitions were filed in the Supreme Court by Delhi residents against the felling of `heritage` trees in the Siri Forest area to make way for Games facilities. Also, the Commonwealth Games village, located on the flood plains of the Yamuna, has been in the eye of storm for flouting ecological norms.
A Beautiful Surface
Where have so many shanties and slums gone that used to house the homeless poor? And where are the poor now? They have been relocated with ‘snakes’ and ‘rats’, they have been forcibly sent back to their respective states (particularly the beggars), and they have been ‘shut off’ by constructing bamboo screens around their shelters, an abominable and dishonest act.
No doubt we didn’t want to see poverty spilling on our roads but brushing it under the carpet is not what the Games were supposed to do. Massive construction and "beautification" projects have resulted in displacement of 100,000 of New Delhi’s 160,000 homeless people.
Flouted Labour Laws
How many of us even think of the labourers working day and night at the Games venue for its speedy completion? Why are there so few reports in newspapers about them, so few pictures showing them work? Because public has been banned from the camps where workers live and work. How Orwellian!
Independent reports have revealed numerous violations of labour laws at the working sites. Not just small children were found around hazardous sites but there have been reports of clear-cut violation of Minimum Wages Act, 1948; Interstate Migrant Workmen Act, 1979, and the fundamental rights per the 1982 Supreme Court judgment on Asiad workers.
Common and Banal?
Organizers estimated that nearly 40,000 rooms will be needed for the tourists who would come to Delhi to watch the Games. But who will come? And to watch whom? In a city where slight drizzle causes frustrating traffic jams, where a small trade fair brings the Metro and road traffic to a grinding halt, what made the organisers think tourists will flock?
Besides do we have Ronaldo, Kaka, Rooney and Forlan to attract the fans? Forget that, we don’t even know who our star sportspersons are going to be? Who is in-charge of ensuring that India ends up higher than Rank 4 it got in Melbourne in 2006? There is no Shakira coming to gather the crowds and Bollywood has been shown ‘No Entry’ signs.
Are we really hospitable? ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ is a sacred mantra that now needs the desperate help of Aamir Khan for resurrection.
How do we treat the foreigners who visit the capital? Do we think twice before spitting on roads or pushing in buses and Metro? Ogling, gaping and passing lewd comments on the tourists is our second nature. Everyday we read news of foreigners being raped and duped despite our pot-bellied policemen stationed at every police check post - day and night.
Unfinished targets, spiralling costs and corruption
Curiously, whatever the Organising Committee touches becomes more expensive. Experts have estimated the Games’ total cost at USD 2 billion to USD 6 billion. And we do not see any sponsors around! For big sporting events like Olympics or even the small ones like IPL, the sponsors start advertising much in advance.
The organizing committee says it has sold TV broadcasting rights for USD 64 million. Ticket sales are likely to bring in USD 13 million. So far just 13 sponsors have signed up, but many of the deals are not pure sponsorships. Reebok, for example, is supplying uniforms.
PSUs such as Railways, NTPC Ltd and Air India are paying USD 74 million for sponsorship. But the question is, will the government make PSUs spend on something which may result in losses? Taxes on citizens and businesses would be the only way out of this debt for years to come.
Besides, almost all sporting venues are still unfinished. And there are alarming reports of rampant corruption in the construction works including the use of sub-standard material and flouting of international standards. The Central Vigilance Commission has asked for a CBI probe and the Enforcement Directorate is looking into foreign funds trail, prompted by a UK government probe.
Several sites have suffered from post-Monsoon leaks. A false ceiling collapsed at the table-tennis arena, a swimmer got injured at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and the roof of Yamuna stadium collapsed after inauguration. Entire Connaught Place, the warm heart of Delhi, is hopelessly dug up. Besides, reports have confirmed that the estimated costs of almost all venues have escalated by over 100 times. Nothing but corruption, gross miscalculation and extreme irresponsibility on part of the organisers can explain this outstanding increase.
London is almost ready for 2012 Olympics. And we are presenting a shabby, sordid picture to the world due to our unprofessional approach where the organisers are indulged in turf battles with each other as well as the Commonwealth Games Organisation. For us, the event is a symbol of the country`s economic progress, a picture that we want to exhibit to the world: a successful, prosperous nation capable of holding big, successful events. But what we have presented till now is everything that we are not or won’t aspire to be.
While one doesn’t hope, a la Mani, that the Games turn into a fiasco, it remains to be seen if the authorities will take a lesson from what’s going on. Meanwhile, will somebody please tell me what all comes in the Rs 50,000 ticket of the inauguration ceremony? Do we get to keep the baton?