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The Commonwealth Games – ‘The Common Woes Games’

The Commonwealth Games 2010 finally took off in New Delhi, yesterday, on October 3 after rebounding from the brink of disaster a couple of weeks ago when several (Western) teams threatened to pull out – and several individual athletes actually did so – due to concerns about unhygienic conditions in the Games Village, the dengue fever epidemic raging in the Indian capital due to incessant rains and consequent floods, the ever-present terrorism threat that hovers permanently over the Indian sub-continent and other assorted issues.
04 October 2010

Street graffiti in Delhi, protesting the Commonwealth games 2010.Photo (c) flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/48202244@N06/"> nocwg2010</a> and licensed under a <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en">Creative Commons 2.0 licence</a>.
Street graffiti in Delhi, protesting the Commonwealth games 2010.Photo (c) flickr user nocwg2010 and licensed under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence

The Commonwealth Games 2010 finally took off in New Delhi, yesterday, on October 3 after rebounding from the brink of disaster a couple of weeks ago when several (Western) teams threatened to pull out – and several individual athletes actually did so – due to concerns about unhygienic conditions in the Games Village, the dengue fever epidemic raging in the Indian capital due to incessant rains and consequent floods, the ever-present terrorism threat that hovers permanently over the Indian sub-continent and other assorted issues.

In fact, over the last couple of months, the CWG have been embroiled in a plethora of controversies ranging from the colossal escalation of the cost of the event, delays in construction of stadiums and other infrastructure and their shoddy construction, corruption scandals, nepotism in the appointment of personnel, human rights violations, diversion of funds meant for scheduled caste uplift and worker pensions to CWG works and gross inflation of bills for various works. So much so, the Indian media had gone to town blackballing the event in the most derisive terms – ‘Games of Shame’, ‘Common Woes Games’, ‘loot fest’ ‘etc.
 
The man who has copped most of the flak for all that went wrong with the Games is Suresh Kalmadi, chief of the organising committee and also president of the Indian Olympic Association & Athletics Federation of India and Member of Parliament. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was himself forced to intervene to sort out the Games mess by superseding the Organising Committee and appointing his trusted bureaucrats to take over the responsibilities. He also promised “severe and exemplary” punishment to those found guilty of corruption.
     
A comprehensive critique of the Games can be perused in the damning report entitled “The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth? Whose Commons?” compiled by the Housing and Land Rights Network, a unit of the Habitat International Coalition and released by Justice A P Shah in the national capital in May 2010.

The HLRN report has described the entire process related to the CWG as being “essentially underscored by secrecy, unavailability of information, and unconstitutional activities, with evidence of long-term economic, social and environmental costs for the nation, and specifically for the city of Delhi”. “The CWG process, from the time of the bid to the continuous colossal escalation in the total budget, has been characterized by a lack of public participation, transparency, and government accountability,” it stated.
 
In this report for Play the Game, we summarize some of the critical issues that have arisen and controversies that have erupted in the run up to the Games:
 
BIDDING FOR THE GAMES
Indian  officials offered a last-minute ‘bribe’ of USD 100,000 to each of the 72 members of the Commonwealth Games Federation totally amounting to USD 7.2 million (Rs 32.4 crores) to win the vote to host the Games over rival bidder, the Canadian city of Hamilton, by a 46-22 margin at Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 2003. Hamilton had offered only USD 5 million to the CGF countries.

(1 USD = Rs 45 at current rates and 1 crore = 10 million Rs)
 
In addition the Indian officials dangled other unprecedented ‘sweetners’ like travel grants for athletes and officials totally amounting to USD 10.5 million, luxury accommodation for CWG officials in New Delhi, chauffer driven luxury cars and a free trip to see the Taj Mahal. The total expenditures on the Indian bid reportedly came to around Rs 89 crore.

COLOSSAL ESCALATION OF STAGING COSTS
The estimates for staging the Games has rocketed sky high several times over since the bid was won. According to various reports, from the original estimate of USD 1.3 billion, the Games will now cost USD 15 billion, reportedly seven times more expensive than the Melbourne CWG in 2006!
 
In December 2003, the then Minister for Sport, Vikram Verma, told Parliament that the likely expenditure on the Games, as per Indian Olympic Association estimates, was approximately Rs 4,00 crore (plus another Rs 200 crore for the construction of a Games Village, stadia and other works) while the estimated revenues were Rs 490 crore!

(1 USD = Rs 45 at current rates and 1 crore = 10 million Rs)
 
India’s Bid Document for the CWG projected the cost of hosting the Games in Delhi at USD 440 million (nearly Rs 1,900 crore)
 
A few months ago, current Minister for Sports, the government conceded in Parliament that the cost for staging the Games had already crossed Rs 11,000 crore. Many critics are claiming that the overall Games expenditure could be in the region of Rs 30,000 crore while authors Nalin Mehta and Boria Majumdar in their recently released book “Sellotape Legacy: Delhi & the Commonwealth Games” (Harper Collins) claim that the amount allotted for ‘Commonwealth Games-related work’ when clubbed with other costs could cross Rs 70,000 crore mark!
 
On the distaff side, the revenues from sponsorships, sale of TV rights, merchandising etc., were only pegged at Rs 1,708 crore, which do not look like being realised. In fact, the Comptroller & Auditor General of India had dismissed the figures as being ambitious.
 
GROSS DISTORTION OF NATIONAL PRIORITIES
Although it was the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government that bid for the Games in 2003 when it was in power to showcase its ‘India Shining’ story, the bid had the backing of the Congress which is now ruling at the Centre. The Congress more so has given the Games organizers a ‘blank cheque’ to splurge as they please to hold a “world class Games” and portray Delhi as a “world class city”.
 
For a country where nearly 40 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, where farmers’ suicides have blighted the countryside for years, where facilities for education, public health, public transport, housing, sanitation, power and water supply and sport are poor, spending thousands of crores on a 12-day international sporting jamboree is an “unwarranted extravagance”.
 
As the former Minister of Sport, Mani Shankar Aiyar, the only high profile politician to consistently oppose the very concept of hosting the event, said in a piece: “Holding the 10-day, Rs 20,000 crore-jamboree reflects a misplaced sense of pride and distortion of national priorities. If not on development of a chronically poor nation, the money could have been well spent on bringing basic sports to every mohalla  and panchayat.” He was shunted aside so that the loot-fest could begin.
 
Even Baichung Bhutia, the national football captain, observed: “We aren’t ready for hosting this. Instead, the money should be spent on developing sports infrastructure, which is really poor in India.”
 
EXPLOITATION OF LABOUR AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
The Organising Committee has boasted about the world-class facilities and the five-star Games Village that it has put up for the Games, but the workers who have helped build them have enjoyed anything but world-class wages or treatment.

In fact, the social and environmental consequences of the event have been glossed over by the political authorities and the organisers. Various reports and studies by the likes of the Peoples’ Union for Democratic Rights have highlighted their exploitation – paltry wages, reported use of child labour, unsafe working conditions and abysmal living conditions.
 
Around 100 workers have reportedly died from work-related accidents at various Games sites – and an equal number from diseases due to substandard living conditions. Only a couple of weeks ago, 27 workers were injured in the bridge collapse outside the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies and the athletics events.  
 
Marginalized sections of society have had to bear the brunt of Delhi’s beautification drive as slums have been demolished without proper rehabilitation of its denizens, homeless people and thousands of beggars have been rounded up and deported, hawkers and street vendors have been forced to stop plying their trade on the pavements.

The security measures implemented and installed for the Games too have played their part in the curtailment of civil liberties, making life difficult for the common people in Delhi, many of whom wish the event should have never taken place.

SCAMS AND SCANDALS
Here is a roundup of some of the scams that have been exposed in the national media:
 
AM Films/AM Car Hire case:  Over £450,000 was transferred in dubious circumstances to the dodgy London-based AM Films/AM Car Hire firms, which was also receiving £25,000 a month, for making arrangements for the Queen’s Baton Relay in London, without any written contract or documents. Three senior OC officials got the resultant boot.
 
Organising committee treasurer resigns: OC treasurer Anil Khanna, also All India Tennis Association general secretary, resigned after it emerged that the Indian arm of Rebound Ace, an Australian firm which won the contract for laying 14 synthetic surfaces at the R. K. Khanna Stadium (named after his father), was headed by his son.  
 
SMAM smackdown:
The contract of Australia-based Sports Marketing and Management, which was hired to market the Games to sponsors and advertisers, was terminated over alleged non-performance and inability to deliver sponsorship targets. It was suddenly discovered that SMAM was set to earn 15-23% commission for sponsorships given by Indian public sector undertakings, which SMAM apparently did nothing to bring in.
 
The Enforcement Directorate is in fact trailing the ultimate beneficiaries of the payments made to SMAM and two other major CWG consultants – the Swiss-based Event Knowledge Services and Fast Track Sales Ltd. Preliminary findings of the probe carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had revealed that undue favour had been shown to London-based Fast Track Sales Ltd “solely on the recommendation” of CGF president Mike Fennell and OC chairman Suresh Kalmadi.
 
Marked up hire, purchases
: Heavily marked-up prices were paid in massive shopping sprees for sundry items: treadmills were hired at Rs 9.75 lakh each for 45 days (they can be purchased at Rs 4-7 lakh each) chairs at Rs 8,378 apiece, 100-litre fridges at Rs 42,202, umbrellas at Rs 6,308, toilet paper rolls at Rs 3,757, 45 Automated External Defibrillator machines at Rs 194,040 each (which are available for around Rs 90,000-100,000).
 
The overlays deals amounting to about Rs 650 crore were awarded to four contractors, three of them having an Indian and foreign partner each. The most lucrative deals, worth Rs 230 crore, went to the PICO-Deepali consortium. Deepali Design and Exhibits, the Indian partner, is founded by Vinay Mittal, the nephew of BJP’s ‘tentwallah’ Sudhanshu Mittal.  
 
CVC’s Indictment: The Chief Vigilance Commission alleged huge financial irregularities and poor quality of construction work in most CWG projects after probing 16 of them. Use of sub-standard material, rigging of bids, sanctioning of frivolous projects, favouritism in selection of contractors and private bidders being allowed to tamper with figures post-auction are some of the charges levied. Fake certificates were also routinely issued to pass substandard work and material.
 
Builder Bailout: Emaar-MGF, the real estate monolith, which was given the contract to build the Games Village, got an Rs 700 crore bailout in May 2009 from the Delhi Development Authority, to help the recession hit Dubai-based company execute the contract.

Village for the Rich: The organizing committee had originally promised that the Games Village would, post-event, be used as hostel accommodation for Delhi University students. However, the flats in the village will now be sold off as luxury apartments for the rich.

Diversion of Funds: Funds meant for the welfare of scheduled castes/scheduled tribes (Rs 744 crores), Delhi municipal corporation employees’ pensions and wages (Rs 171 crores), Delhi metro railway works (Rs 500 crores) and cultural bodies (Rs 14 crores) were diverted for CWG-related works.

Renovation extravaganzas: The renovation work carried out at various stadia proved to be more expensive than building new ones. It took Rs 961 crore to renovate the main Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Rs 262 crores for the Dhyan Chand hockey stadium etc., whereas, it took only Rs 64 crores to build the new state-of-the-art Nagpur Cricket Stadium in central India.


Download the report 'The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth? Whose Commons?' here

Read also Kirsten Sparre's article Human rights activists want India to call off Commonwealth Games from 30 August 2010



 
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