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25 September 2010

Commonwealth Shames...

... India and the Games' apologists blame the victim — Indians — for not being nationalistic enough
An international games event is often hosted in a place with the aim to uplift the local economy. The Commonwealth Games has so far served this purpose well in several cities in various countries that hosted them (this event is strictly associated with the hosting city and not the hosting country). Prime among these examples is the 2002 chapter that was held in Manchester that was passing through its worst phase of unemployment, a fallout of the closure of hundreds of textile mills the city has historically been known for.

The city received a considerable facelift as a result, and at least 20,000 jobs were created as a direct result of the infrastructure upgrade. The most prominent of the economic changes observed by the city because of the 2002 Commonwealth Games was Microsoft, the company that took charge of the cyber support for the event, making the city its European headquarters.

With this in view, it was initially proposed that one of the villages on the outskirts of Delhi — either Bawana or Narela — would be made the venue of 2010 Commonwealth Games. But the organisers with questionable intent ensured that was not to be. Delhi, already the most privileged of all Indian cities, was finally decided as the venue to facilitate contractors with, it is now learnt, dubious antecedents. The company blacklisted by the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System being awarded the contract for the foot overbridge that was to join the Barapulla Nala elevated road and Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the structure that collapsed last Tuesday, is a sore case in point. That is besides the issue of innumerable structures that have come up all over the city for the ‘convenience’ of the Games’ athletes and officials.

What is the legacy that this case of monumental corruption is supposed to leave after the first fortnight of October 2010? The governments of Delhi and the Centre alike have assured the citizens that every case of alleged fraud will be investigated after the Games. When this assurance was given for the first time two months ago, the news read as if the authority were saying that the organisers could muck around with impunity — and, possibly, even remove evidence of corruption — in the intervening period. As the postscript in the article by Shekhar Gupta in today’s edition of The Indian Express fears, the Union Government’s ‘anger’, presuming it’s really upset, might subside by then! This newspaper is, by the way, of the view that the ineptness of the authority is limited to not being able to be prepared for the Games well in time; otherwise, it’s pretty gung-ho about Delhi’s remarkable “infrastructure development”; it has branded the Indians who are criticising the mess as a “self-flagellation” brigade. But let’s not digress by calling patriotism the last refuge of scoundrels.

A family of daily-wage labourers, photographed outside the
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium last Friday by a Hindustan Times
journalist, that has been asked to leave Delhi by this Monday
Back to the issue of legacy, three days ago on Times Now, a socialist activist called the filth in the Commonwealth Games Village the “poor man’s revenge”. They sullied the place because, she thinks, they are not paid well! In all the ex post facto justifications and explanations we have heard so far for the Village not being ready in time for athletes to move in, a bare fact about Indian labourers’ behaviour is conspicuous by its absence. While it is not my case, unlike Indian Olympic Committee Secretary-General Lalit Bhanot’s that unflushed toilets and bedsheets with dogs’ pug marks are the ‘Indian standard’ of cleanliness, let’s not forget that this is the state in which every Indian apartment is found before its owner moves in. It’s an unwritten code of conduct for India’s labourers that, before handing the possession of a house over to its owner, the house must be left to their mercy. The fault with the organising committee was limited to letting the foreigners have a glimpse of the flats’ condition a bit too ‘early’ for our comfort. An SOS could have been transmitted to the site’s labourers, asking them to clean up before the delegates were to walk in for inspection.

Otherwise, howsoever politically incorrect it may sound, the labourers are disinclined to making the kind of statement the socialist activist thought they did. Bhanot was wrong in suggesting that filth was the Indian standard of hygiene, but it’s true that is the normal way of living of the lowest economic stratum of Indian society, and the workers had made the construction site their ‘home’, living there the way they live in slums. Hence the question of legacy again. Has this stratum benefited in any way from the Games? Let alone being granted better living conditions as a token of appreciation for the effort they put in, they were not even paid on par with industry’s rate of daily wages. One of the workers labouring at the Shivaji Stadium, a venue the authorities have already admitted will not be fully completed by October, revealed he was getting paid Rs 3,000 a month to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. By law, he should have been getting double that amount.

Defecating and spitting all over the place may not be their idea of vengeance, but that takes nothing away from the fact that they, as much as other poor people of the city, have earned nothing in return from the Games. Rather, the domestic helps across the National Capital region are being thrashed and thrown out of the city by the police so that the ‘ugliness’ of their poverty does not sully the image of Delhi and India.

In what is clearly a demonstration of government’s haughtiness, it disregards the concerns of the educated middle class as well, with the next Parliament and Assembly elections too far away to generate the apprehension of electoral retribution. As if turning the whole city grey with unpainted metro pillars and leaving no room for possible sky rails in future were not enough, the traffic on almost all roads interlinking the different corners of the city have been turned one way, with an obscure turn lurking somewhere in between, missing which would mean a motorist has to drive an extra 5 km or 10 km to reach his destination. If this is tolerable, read on.

The present condition of a section of Connaught Place Inner Circle
As a resident of east Delhi with all its roadways at my fingertips, I have reasons to smell a rat seeing three unnecessary flyovers coming up in the region. On two of them where work has just concluded — the one in front of the Village and another in front of the Mayur Vihar Phase I metro station — buses, trucks and cars are seen moving in the same direction both over and beneath the flyovers! This shows that the intersections on the way were hardly an obstacle to smooth traffic movement. Indeed, while going to NOIDA and coming back, this writer never had to halt for more than 30 seconds at the Mayur Vihar intersection. The residents of the neighbourhood, in fact, have the option of two other routes to emerge from their colony and go anywhere they want. When the Games would be on, couldn’t the traffic on these roads be stopped for a while to facilitate the movement of athletes? Sandeep Dikshit, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s son and also the MP from the region — as also the Urban Development Ministry — must explain which friendly contractors were awarded the deal of constructing these luxury flyovers. The residents of other parts of Delhi have similar tales of woe to tell. No wonder, the overall expense incurred due to the Commonwealth Games overshot the original budgeted amount and it now stands at 114 times the initial allocation.

This cannot be a concern for the people of Delhi alone. With the corporate sector disinterested in the Games, PSUs have been forced to sponsor the event. This means that the money that the people of India pay to keep the fortunes of many of these government undertakings afloat is now going to the Games. Among the PSUs that are better off, the country’s biggest power producer NTPC Ltd has decided to scrap its Rs 50 crore sponsorship deal while the Power Grid Corporation of India has decided to back out of its commitment of around Rs 9 crore. In Delhi, local taxes have been increased, money originally set aside to help the development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has been diverted and unsightly slums have been bulldozed out of the way, all in the name of the Games.

Specific to the event, the Central Vigilance Commission has identified 16 Games’ projects where there appeared to be financial irregularities. One after another scandal has unravelled kickbacks, shady off-shore firms, forged e-mails, inexplicable payments to bogus companies and inflated bills — for every purchase from toilet paper worth Rs 3,757 to treadmills Rs 9 lakh apiece to umbrellas costing Rs 6,000 each...

The media, however, chose to highlight the incompetence of Suresh Kalmadi and his cohorts alone, who were in charge of no more than 10% of the total funds for the city’s uplift, giving the complicity of the local administration just a passing, customary mention. An impression was created as if everything else in the city was hunky dory, based on which the newspaper named in the beginning of this article questioned why Indians couldn’t be happy about the remaining 90%. Who will judge the judges is therefore the question here. It is not difficult to trace journalists in their late 40s and 50s in all media houses who refused promotion to the bureau and stuck to their first beat of city reporting so that they could sing paeans to Sheila Dikshit and remain in the good books of the city's government. No wonder, even trenchant critics of the UPA Government at the Centre are silent on the issue of obvious misappropriations by the Delhi dispensation.

Make no mistake about it. We, the people of Delhi/NCR, have to fight our own battle. The media might raise a few issues on our behalf but, before its shriek reaches a crescendo, we fear their gaping mouths would be stashed with a share of the loot, and all cases of corruption will gradually be wiped off public memory. Unfortunately, the people do not have incriminating evidence in support of this allegation. Mercifully, public anger is not dependent on incriminating evidence; portents suffice.

Last night, the three most prominent English news channels CNN-IBN, NDTV and Times Now stopped pursuing the mess makers of the Commonwealth Games, and BBC, possibly out of bounds of the Games cartel’s influence, interviewed three pedestrians on the roads of Delhi, two of whom projected a grim scenario. Tonight if the Hindi news channels shut up, viewers should not be surprised. The newspapers this morning ran up the story of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh drubbing Sports Minister MS Gill on their front pages even as quotes of anonymous athletes and officials, saying they were still not satisfied with the conditions, were relegated to the pages inside.

Can blogs like this one come to our rescue? Fat chance! India was recently reported to be among the most censored countries out of Internet users worldwide. But we are not giving up.

1 comment:

arjun said...

Its extremely unfortunate that an event that could have opened a new chapter in Delhi's history has turned out to be a disaster! Im sure the media will be silenced! Even the Pro-bjp pioneer isnt making a hue and cry, or did i actually miss that out? lemme knw! Im sharing the link in my FB wall!

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.