Saturday, October 16, 2010

(Un)Common Weath Game begins.

As friends of the Kalmadi family, as many Kannadiga's in Pune are, it has been very confusing times for us. We have known the family for a long time and had great affection and regard for Suresh Kalmadi's father Dr. Shama Rao. A very charismatic person.

It has been a cacophony of sounds, typical of India. There were complaints of delays, shoddy work, about ticket sales, overrun of budgets and corruption! There would be many more. It seems from the media reports and the way he is treated now, that he is the main cause for all this mess. And now the way the PM and the president of the Congress Party have snubbed him, it seems he is the only cause for all the ills and we are required to think that if CWG was a grand success it was in spite of Kalmadi and his OC.

It is indeed a sad time for us and what is more saddening is that a judgment is passed even before a thorough audit is done and he is crucified by the press and people all over.

The idea of holding CWG games did not really excite me, a new twist to the British Raj. My feelings were, if Brits want to be reminded of their Empire, let them spend for it. My reaction to the news, 'It is for the first time that a Head of a State attended the traditional ceremony and received the baton from the Queen',:... 'what a waste of money'.

Even the numbers are confusing. I had read that the cost of CWG was Rs. 70,000 crores but the report in TOI says: NEW DELHI: Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit has said the "real corruption" in the Games seemed to be with regard to the Rs 1600 crore given as central loans to the Organizing Committee headed by Suresh Kalmadi.

Then I read the rebuttal: Kalmadi said that the OC has already welcomed the Prime Minister's decision to set up a probe panel and hoped that the Terms of Reference of the Shunglu Committee will include not just the scope of work undertaken by the OC at a budget of Rs 1620 crore but also the Rs 16,000 spent by the Delhi government.

My immediate reaction was, what about the rest of the money? Some Rs.52,380 crores.

One of the positives of all this squabbling is that the athletes are getting the attention they deserve and hopefully a better deal in the future. We all know how shabbily they are normally treated by the men in power.

There may be another positive outcome of all this mess. While it would personally sadden us if the corruption charges were proved in the dealings of Suresh Kalmadi and his OC, I am certain that more and more sordid details would also surface and there would be a cleansing of our system. I hope so, but I am not so sure, our people could well be satisfied with one or two examples and the rest may go free. After all Kalmadi has no real political base.

Here are a few nice things I read about the CWG.

It was the first time in Commonwealth Games history athletes march into the stadium and were seated in time to enjoy the celebrations. Traditionally they have marched last.

By Kelly Exelby

I really do believe that Delhi has exceeded most expectations. Of course there have been problems. I said in a TV report that maybe the slogan for these Games should have been 'Better Late than Never'.

The end result, though, was well worth waiting for. Just to look at the excited faces in the crowds, to see the sense of pride in Indian success, made everything seem so worthwhile.

There's no doubt that Delhi has many lessons to learn from the Commonwealth Games experience, but isn't that part of the point of giving the Games to a city like Delhi?

Personally, I've really enjoyed my time in Delhi. It's my first visit here and it's been far better than I had expected. Maybe I, like some of the athletes who decided to stay away, had been too quick to believe some of the scare stories.

More importantly the article below probably has the right assessment of the CWG.

The true cost of the Commonwealth Games
Commentary by Clare Raybould, special to
September 30, 2010

. ...resulted in an irreversible alteration in the social, spatial, economic, and environmental dimensions of the city of New Delhi. The environmental and social challenges being faced right now are vast and the true implications of the CWG seem to be lost.

It seems the Western model of development has been embraced and followed in India, as millions of migrants have poured into the city searching for work to escape the poverty of rural life in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Our mistakes – mainly poorly planned industrialization – also seem to have been repeated. Serious environmental impacts are the consequence and the condition of the slums into which families have had to move has worsened as the population has grown; like the Western world did once upon a time, India hasn’t focused on the rural countryside to lessen the mass migrations to cities and isn’t promoting the conservation of resources enough.

Now, with the construction of the site for the CWG, the impact on the river and its surrounding area has worsened. A thousand trees have been felled and the inhabitants of the slums and houses have been forced to leave their homes to make way for the Games’ required stadiums and amenities.

Social Impacts
“Construction related to the CWG is bringing in migrants from outside Delhi and adding good amount of slums to the city,” A.K. Sengupta, the national professional officer, sustainable development and healthy environment, WHO, warned in back in April this year.

Nearly 30 percent of Delhites live in slums. While the slums have never been of good condition, they have provided a roof over the heads of many families. Slums have become an integral part of New Delhi as it has developed and when the CWG offered construction jobs, more families gave up farming to head there. With every shopping mall, house, highway and skyscraper that has been built with the migrants’ help to represent the new, more prosperous India, a slum has arisen to accommodate the new inhabitants. Efforts to demolish those slums to create the right image of New Delhi to CWG visitors has only pushed thousands of migrant workers and their families into the very structures they are building to squat and survive.

Indeed in the five years from 2003 to 2008 the CWG project has demolished close to 350 slum clusters that housed nearly 300,000 people. Only about one third of these families have been resettled. Those who have not been resettled are now facing an uncertain future. Some are being hidden by Indian officials behind curtains and other apparatus, so that the expectant world viewers do not see them on programs covering the Games. Most evictions were generally carried out under the guise of city "beautification" and urban renewal measures, but it is not hard to link the CWG development to degradation of the river and worsening misery in poor communities and see that the project has far from inspired any kind of rehabilitation. The Yamuna Riverbank School was included in the demolition while the children stood by and watched the bulldozers move in. The school was founded for 180 slum children living on the banks of the Yamuna River on the outskirts of New Delhi.

India’s growth on all fronts is happening very rapidly; the nation is modernizing and developing while the population continues to rise. In the midst of the global financial crisis, India’s economy is growing positively and the country is becoming more and more attractive as a hub for international business. However, hidden behind this rapid progression are clear costs – to India’s environments and already marginalized communities. Both seem to be lost in the development, forgotten, and to an outsider they appear to be a burden to India, which is hiding or removing them in the rush to seem prepared for the approaching Games this Sunday.

There has been ongoing debate regarding the legality of the development needed for the CWG: it is widely known that the Indian Government has tried for some time to build in the area around Yamuna and the Games will open doors to further development. Critics claim that environmental impact assessment norms have been violated: environmental cases are pending over the thousand trees that were felled, while many people have been injured and killed during construction.

With the CWG approaching in just a few days, rather than addressing these issues, the pressure is on India to ensure the accommodation for us foreigners is ready, clean and safe to make good of their £1.6 billion investment into the stadiums and amenities.

Iwan Thomas, a British Olympic Athlete is quoted in the UK’s Sun newspaper as saying “Many athletes have worked hard for months (for the CWG) and now they have all these concerns for their safety… As an athlete you have to concentrate on yourself and be very focused.”

Does this give them and us an excuse for arrogance?

As much as the Indian Government has a legal and moral commitment to its people and its environment, we have a responsibility to regard India's preparedness (or lack of) for the CWG with fair and rational eyes and offer our support.

£1.6 billion does not take away the fact that India is a developing country in a global economic slowdown. In April 2010 the Delhi finance minister confirmed: "We are broke." In fact, in a bid to afford the final phases of the project Indian officials have put up bus fares and the water tariff, withdrawn subsidy on LPG cylinders and increased VAT on a number of items. The city budget for 2010-11 has increased several direct and indirect taxes. Land prices have escalated in the Trans-Yamuna area of the city, so New Delhi has become a more expensive city because of the Games. It is not unusual in New Delhi to see children working and businesses straying away from their health and safety responsibilities because this is just how it is - most of the people living directly on the Yamuna are struggling for their basic survival.

A UK website states that "Of the estimated 300,000 workers engaged in construction projects, 100,000 will be unskilled; 10,000 of whom will be women and their 20,000 children. There is rampant exploitation of these workers. This includes low pay, unsafe working conditions, lack of housing, use of child labor, non-registration of workers and denial of social security benefits.”

However, in India, those same 300,000 workers would be grateful of the accommodation that is there waiting for the CWG athletes they built it for, as now, even those involved in the construction for the Games have gone - disappeared behind the smiling tiger.

To them any accommodation would be appreciated and this is why they accept what we regard as poor working conditions, low pay and exploitation – to survive. Equally, this is the accepted culture in India: children do work and it is seen as a way of educating and learning respect; a way of life as much as a way to bring money into the family. While the majority of British children were in school or playing, India’s children have worked hard for as little as £1.30 a day on the construction site for the Commonwealth Games Stadium and workers have been paid way below the minimum wage while being forced to live and work in what we regard substandard conditions, even under the tarpaulin on the construction sites.

This is what the British media should be addressing, to raise much needed awareness. While, instead of passing judgment, those involved in the Games – sponsors, organizers, etc – and the International Businesses moving into India, should be using their wealth and power to aid the implementation of improvements needed to serve the long-term gain of Indian society. Those that are able, in partnership with India, need to put their own profits back into better planning for the future, so that urban health is positively impacted, conditions are improved and the environment is conserved. While the Games and its competitors will be “there today and gone tomorrow” it is the environment and the people that will suffer from the poor planning that has occurred for many years to come.

We need to do this quickly, as The Formula One Grand Prix is also scheduled in Bangalore for 2011 – the first time a Grand Prix has ever taken place in India, to ensure it doesn’t end in equal disaster.

I also liked this article in the Hindu. The narcissism of the neurotic P. SAINATH

The Commonwealth Games were no showcase, but a mirror of India 2010. If they presented anything, it was this — Indian crony, casino capitalism at its most vigorous.

I saw this as well. Obviously our watchdogs are either missing or not that watchful.

Olympics 2012: National Audit Office warns of cost over-run

The £9.3 billion budget for the London Olympics could significantly overrun due to a series of "formidable" challenges facing the organisers, the public spending watchdog warns today.

By Tom Peterkin

Published: 9:31PM BST 19 Jun 2008


Ramesh said...

Hi Nidhi,
Very rightly said that it was sad & demoralising to see the reports on corruption before the Cwgames.

Agreed that the games went off well but it is time for us to try to root out/ reduce corruption( which is thriving at all levels).

Lets hope that the probe is done in right ernest & the guilty are punished accordingly.

VATSALA said...

The greatest achievement has been telling Haryanvis that girls are necessary for the species to prosper and they can walk alongside

prati said...

hey nidhi,
levels of honesty, sense of duty, truthfulness, etc. vary from one individual to another. further, big money is always a great temptation. i can understand your predicament while writing about friends whom you know well. but, in the world of today, it is difficult to be a part of the system and still be away from all the corruption within that system. let's wait for the outcome of the investigations. till then take solace in an old russian quote -- "seek the truth not in mundane details of daily life, but in the essence of life itself"

Kesari said...

A lot of things done in this world are a waste of money but some of them a necessary evil.
Disregarding the corruption in organizing the CWG (I hope the culprits are brought to book. The money siphoned off will not be recoverable) what I lwill remember this CWG will be for 2 sterling performances. The first is that of the women's 4x400 relay gold medal effort. What a splendid run by Ashwini Akkunji in the 3rd leg. She was 10-15m behind the leader when given the baton, but established a lead of 5m at the end of her run, reminiscent of Usain Bolt's magic run in the Olympics when he won by a long distance. At least Bolt had a very very good reason to run fast. He had someone called tyson GAY running after him :D
The second will be for the amazing performance by the young Ashish Kumar in the gymnastics event. Indians were no where near world class before this event, but here he was vaulting and doing the floor exercises like a world champion.