One corruption charge after another tumbles out

Many felt the organising committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi should have resigned when the External Affairs Ministry showed proof of 'Doctored' e-mails with regard to the QBR launch and financial irregularities related to the function.-PTI

The large-scale corruption charges against the Organising Committee officials and doubts about the quality of work done in building “world-class” stadia have caused a furore. The Central Vigilance Commissioner's office has raised several questions with regard to construction flaws in a preliminary report. By K. P. Mohan.

“We are building world-class facilities.” The oft-repeated refrain from the Organising Committee (OC) officials, ministers and politicians might actually give you the impression that it is only in India such facilities are made available for such big multi-discipline games.

In the end, if the “world-class” facilities are not looking truly “world-class”, it is dismissed as the media's biased approach to a Games that, according to Mani Shankar Aiyar, Rajya Sabha member and a staunch critic of the Commonwealth Games, would guzzle down Rs. 35,000 crore.

Grudgingly we accept the fact that if we want to host multi-discipline games and make a mark for ourselves in international polity, we have to spend this much. At least that is what the politicians and sports officials argue.

But the large-scale corruption charges against the Organising Committee officials and doubts about the quality of work done in building “world-class” stadia have caused a furore. The Central Vigilance Commissioner's office has raised several questions with regard to construction flaws in a preliminary report.

As one corruption charge after the other tumbled out and dominated television channels and newspapers across the country, people showed a sense of revulsion at the goings-on. But at the same time they seemed to accept the fact that this was bound to happen and the public and the media could do little.

Those who insisted on accountability at the top were dismissed as ‘anti-nationals'. Somehow nationalism was being equated with your capacity to tolerate corruption.

An orchestrated chorus about the need to get on with the organisational responsibilities was mounted as though a work force of around 1500 people in the OC would go on a tool-down strike if a few heads rolled at the top.

Three officials including T. S. Darbari, a close aide of Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi, were suspended after a pack of lies was presented to the media in defence of the very same officials involved in the Queen's Baton Relay (QBR) launch scam in London last October. The general feeling was ‘scapegoats' were being found to hush up the scam.

The OC has cleverly evaded the question whether the money that was spent for hiring cars and mobile toilets, among several other items, in London could be justified. Expenses incurred for hiring AM Cars and AM Films for QBR was 238,093.56 pounds. By all accounts the QBR has been conducted on a lavish scale as though the very success of the Games depended on it. The mainline media, however, almost ignored the event till the baton reached Attari border after passing through 69 countries. The Queen's Baton surely does not have the aura of an Olympic torch.

Kalmadi bravely hung onto his post amidst mounting demands for his resignation. Many felt he should have resigned when the External Affairs Ministry showed proof of ‘doctored' e-mails with regard to the QBR launch and financial irregularities related to the function.

An activist of Citizens Forum holds a placard during a demonstration demanding judicial inquiry into the alleged corruption by the Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games.-PTI

Grappling with delayed projects, last-minute glitches, incomplete stadia, leaking roofs, warped wooden surfaces and technical flaws, the OC plunged into a damage control exercise, defending its accounting procedures and dubbing the media reports as exaggerated.

No one is surprised that money was swindled. It was taken for granted that there would be corruption in a mega project like this. Yet, the scale of corruption, as projected by media reports, is appalling.

“Don't bother about costs, get the best Games organised” was the message from the Government, a top OC official had told this correspondent more than a year ago. “They want to do it better than the Beijing Olympics.”

Government officials always took the plea that any attempt to curb spending would be highlighted as putting hurdles in the path of the OC and thus even if the Government was tight-fisted money eventually would have to be sanctioned.

It was only a couple of months ago that the Government started showing concern at the escalating costs. The Union Finance Minister reportedly put his foot down and rejected a tentative proposal for a hike of Rs. 1200 crore for organisational expenditure over and above the sanctioned budget of Rs. 1620 crore.

That amount has now been scaled down to Rs. 720 crore but there is no knowing how much has been approved or how much is likely to be approved.

The reckless manner in which money is being spent is well illustrated by the expenditure of Rs. 40 crore (some reports say it could touch Rs. 50 crore) for an aerostat (helium balloon) that would be used for lighting and sound equipment during ceremonies.

Do we need to spend Rs. 40 crore for a helium balloon for use during four to six hours of ceremonies?

Kalmadi, at the centre of the storm that broke out with the QBR expose, is quite excited about the aerostat. “It is not a balloon, it will cover almost the entire Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium”, he said at the inauguration of the re-constructed stadium. So what?

Costs were given a Royal ignore, from the time the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) bid for the Games in Kingston in 2003. All participants were offered free air passage, board and lodging and free local transport. All officials were also extended the same facility.

The hospitality would be extended to every International Federation official whose sport is part of the Games programme. As an icing on the cake, at the time of bidding, was the offer of one lakh dollars to each participating nation for training their athletes.

“We will end up paying air fare for around 15,000 people while the Commonwealth Games Federation rules stipulate only a meagre percentage of air passage,” said a Sports Ministry official recently.

From the original budget of Rs. 1940 crore (Government figures put this at Rs. 655 crore), the overall costs have mounted to around Rs. 12,000 crore. The cost of sports infrastructure has touched Rs. 3746 crore including money spent by Urban Development Ministry for facilities created by the DDA. The Delhi Government has received Rs. 1770 crore from the Centre for sports and civic infrastructure.

The State Government would have spent a lot more by the time the Games are over. In short, no one knows what exactly could be the total cost of holding the Games.

That the reconstruction of the Nehru Stadium alone cost Rs. 961 crore (from an original budget of Rs. 325 crore in 2007) should come as a surprise.

Compare these figures with what Andhra Pradesh spent in 2003 for hosting the Afro-Asian Games. The main athletics stadium at Gachibowli came for Rs. 20.9 crore; swimming pool Rs. 9.61 crore; indoor stadium for basketball and badminton for Rs. 11.01 crore; two astro-turf pitches for hockey at Rs. 14.7 crore.

Here the reconstructed swimming pool has cost Rs. 377 crore; even a rugby venue, with a pavilion, a turf and a track plus accessories, has cost Rs. 307 crore.

“Oh that was seven years ago,” comes the explanation. True, Gachibowli was seven years ago, but have costs gone up to that extent?

The section of Barapullah elevated road, connecting Sarai Kale Khan to the Nehru Stadium, is yet to be completed. This is giving headaches to the civic authorities.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Complicated roofs, touted as technological marvels, delayed several projects as costs mounted. The Nehru Stadium roof alone cost Rs. 300 crore (some estimates put it at Rs. 500 crore) and it will not protect all spectators from rain and sun!

“I have never seen a country demolish existing facilities and reconstruct stadia,” said Sam Ramasamy, an IOC Executive Board member and a delegate of the International Swimming Federation (FINA) who was critical of the arrangements at the Talkatora swimming complex.

If the construction costs and organisation expenditure have raised a debate, the term ‘overlays' in Indian parlance will now on mean ‘corruption'.

The QBR scam paled into insignificance when the media exposed a bigger scam named ‘overlays'. The term was apparently drawn from the Aussies to describe temporary structures and fittings required to provide additional facilities at stadia, Games Village, the starting area of marathon and walk events, police booths, transport hubs, security checkpoints etc.

The Government sanctioned Rs. 687 crore after the OC proposed an overlays budget of Rs. 948 crore. The Union Sports Ministry wants this to be part of the OC ‘loan' over and above the Rs. 1620 crore for the organisation expenditure.

If the OC had been expecting to generate enough funds through sponsorships, television rights and merchandising, such hopes have been belied. It will not be able to raise even half the amount that it would require to conduct the Games.

The agreement with the Australian agency contracted by the OC to raise sponsorships, Sports Marketing and Management (SMAM), has been terminated following the furore over the QBR scam. SMAM had not been paid any commission till now, according to OC Secretary-General Lalit Bhanot.

As Kalmadi managed sponsorships from the Central Bank of India, NTPC, Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and the Railways, questions were raised whether SMAM should be given commission, going up to 23 per cent, for sponsorships from the public sector. Complaints regarding SMAM's role were there at the Pune Commonwealth Youth Games also.

The SMAM agreement only showed the type of manipulations involved with the organisation of the Games, especially when Government checks were absent in the initial period. Mercifully, such dubious deals have been exposed in the wake of the London scam. Are there more?

Delhiites have coped with every hardship in a city that looks bombed out. And when scams like these break out, there is pessimism. Who will pay eventually?

Connaught Place has looked ravaged for months. It is learnt that half the work there would be completed only after one year.-AP

As labourers dismantled well-laid out pavements to replace them with costly tiles and granite in an effort to provide additional beauty to the city, one wondered why we took up this task at all. Connaught Place has looked ravaged for months. Now we are told half the work there would be completed only after one year.

Parking lots are still getting ready; some of them would not be completed in time for the Games. The completion of Barapullah elevated road is giving headaches to the civic authorities. That would be the main link from the ‘Village' to the Nehru Stadium and beyond. The traffic chaos are waiting to torment the public.

Security, also mounted on a lavish scale, has been a hindrance to the organising officials, the media and everyone else connected with the Games. No one is saying security should be slack, but it has to be unobtrusive and orderly.

Like in 1982 for the Asian Games, a number of sanctioned hotels will not be ready in time for the Games. There is talk of a lakh of tourists coming for the event. People are sceptical about such figures, going by past experience.

Jhuggis have been demolished to present a spick and span city to the participants and tourists. NGOs have highlighted the plight of the jhuggi-dwellers and sought justice for the poor. Amidst all the talk about “world-class” facilities and “world-class' city not many are bothered about the poor nor about the deaths that occurred during stadia construction.

Yet, people are concerned about the level of corruption as highlighted in the media. No one believes that anything would be done after the Games to bring the guilty to book. “The law will take its own course” had long lost its meaning in the Indian context.