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Delhi Commonwealth Blame Games

Looking at some recent stories in the Indian news media about the construction of the Commonwealth Games facilities it is apparent that the 'same old same old' influences of privatisation, poor institutional oversight, greed, corruption and the brutal exploitation of the vulnerable poor labouring on the project have been clearly highlighted for some time.

On Sept 22nd The Economic Times (of India) reported:

"With 12 days to go for the Commonwealth Games, a gleaming new steeland-concrete suspension pedestrian overbridge came crashing down on Tuesday at the main event venue, Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium. The disaster left at least 27 workers injured and heightened concerns about the safety of structures being readied in a mad rush for the October 3 opening. Among the injured, five of them seriously , was a site engineer.

Authorities refused to pin blame on any agency and Delhi government’s Public Works Department, which has been entrusted with several CWG projects, said it had tendered two foot overbridges , including the one destroyed , to a Chandigarh based company P&R Infraprojects for Rs 10.34 crore [£1.45 million]. Work on both the archshaped foot overbridges started in March and was scheduled to end this month.

Sarvagya Srivastava, the PWD project manager at the site, didn’t say who was responsible for the collapse. He told Times of India two clamps holding up the causeway snapped and as the load increased on other cables, all of them snapped. Public works minister Raj Kumar Chauhan told reporters the bridge, linking the stadium’s parking lot to the venue, was meant exclusively for athletes and officials. But later Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, while visiting the injured at AIIMS, tried to play it down insensitively by saying the overbridge was meant for ‘ordinary’ spectators.

"We saw labourers jumping from the bridge. The entire bridge came down in less than a minute,’’ said Mohammad Ayub, a worker. He said no medical help was immediately available and the injured had to be rushed to hospital in private cars.

PWD officials, present at the site when the structure came down, said first two pairs of clamps of structures called the Macalloy bar suspenders, imported from Britain, broke and there was a progressive failure of the remaining 11 pairs resulting in the collapse. ‘‘ The arch is still intact. A proper investigation would reveal what went wrong in this project,’’ said a senior Delhi government official.

‘‘ We are investigating the matter and anyone found responsible for this negligence would be brought to book. However , this will not affect our preparation for the Games,’’ Chauhan said. Late in the evening, Delhi government announced a team of experts led by retired CPWD director-general H S Dogra and an IT teacher to probe the disaster and report back within two weeks. Police registered a case of causing injury due to negligence and authorities blacklisted the contractor.

More at: Economic Times

On August 19th Bloomberg reported:

"Allegations of corruption and mismanagement are overtaking a tournament that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said would “signal to the world that India is rapidly marching ahead with confidence.” The Economic Times newspaper, citing internal documents, said organizers bought $80 rolls of toilet paper, $61 soap dispensers and $125 first-aid kits.

Government spending for the Commonwealth Games has overrun a 2003 estimate of $500 million by more than nine-fold. The Games have been criticized as the most expensive ever by the Comptroller and Auditor General agency and opposition parties in a nation where the World Bank says 828 million people live on less than $2 a day.

“The publicity that we have received, and how the world is looking at us, is in a negative fashion,” said Randhir Singh, vice chairman of the organizing committee of the Commonwealth Games 2010. “That brings me great shame.” Singh declined to comment to Bloomberg News on the newspaper reports. Lalit Bhanot, secretary general of the organizing committee, said the reports were “inaccurate and mischievous.” He declined to elaborate.

“We have not indulged in any extravagance,” M.S. Gill, the minister for sports, told lawmakers last week. “The newly built stadia are not only spacious but are best with the state-of-the-art technology,” Gill said. “They are not only beautiful but economical in comparison with those built in London or China.”

Slums that weren’t cleared in time will be screened off with bamboo to “conceal the sights,” said New Delhi Chief Secretary Rakesh Mehta, the city’s top bureaucrat. Beggars will be taken off the streets, traffic will be rerouted and much of the city center will become a high-security zone.

As traffic whizzed by her 2-year-old son, Malati Mahto chipped away at the pavement on New Delhi’s posh Lodhi Road, refurbishing the main thoroughfare for traffic to the main arena, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, and parking lots. She said she earns $1.22 working 12-14 hours a day with no helmet or gloves. The New Delhi government said all laborers are supposed to earn at least $9 a day.

The 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) stretch is getting a $3.9- million makeover, according to the New Delhi Municipal Corp. The city is spending $3.5 billion to upgrade highways, expand the subway system and build the airport terminal, minister of urban development S. Jaipal Reddy said.

Mahto, 28, said she was told by the contractor who hired her that her family must leave their blue, plastic hut alongside Lodhi Road by Sept. 15. “They told me that people will come from England and Australia to run and jump,” Mahto said.

More at: Mehul Srivastava, Bloomberg

On August 20th Dawn News reported increasingly angry criticism of Indian government oversight of the project:

"The Times of India newspaper showed Shera, the Games’ jaunty, cartoon tiger mascot, on a respirator, and a former sports minister publicly hoped the Games would collapse in disarray so India would not be tempted to bid for future events. The Shivaji stadium in central Delhi, which is to be used as a practice field for hockey teams, has been stripped down, its facade left with gaping holes as hundreds of workers navigated large piles of red bricks, grey concrete blocks and rusting reinforcing rods. A four-kilometre-long road-bridge connecting the athletes village to the main stadium has gaps in it.

Much of central Delhi remains torn up by projects that had been intended to beautify the city for the 100,000 foreign tourists the Games committee had anticipated. Many of the projects are so far behind schedule they are being covered up, to be worked on again after the event.

And there are doubts the tourists are even coming. Hotels that expected to be sold out have received only anaemic bookings for the Games and regular tourists seem to be deferring travel during what would usually be high season to avoid the spectacle, said Rajindera Kumar, president of Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India. “The response is so weak,” he said. “I’m really fearing for the industry.”

Meanwhile, ticket sales have been delayed, sponsorships have not met expectations and over the weekend the official merchandiser pulled out, saying delays in launching his products were costing him unbearable losses. On Thursday, two power companies announced they were cancelling their multimillion dollar sponsorship deals with the event.

Three top officials were fired this month over alleged financial irregularities with the London launching of the Queen’s Baton Relay – a months-long odyssey akin to the Olympic torch relay. That came a week after the organizing committee’s treasurer resigned amid accusations his son’s firm was given a contract to help build the tennis courts."

More at: DawnNews

My guess is that fear of terrorist attack has prompted decisions by some top athletes, like Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and British long-jumper Phillips Edowu, to announce they will not be coming. Arab News quoted agency reports on Sept 20th of a suspected terrorist attack on a coach load of Taiwanese tourists:

"Gunmen on a motorbike shot at a tourist bus near the main mosque in the Indian capital on Sunday, wounding two Taiwanese visitors, weeks before the city hosts the Commonwealth Games. "The two men were wearing helmets and raincoats. They fired indiscriminately at a tourist bus before escaping," K. Singh, a senior police officer in Delhi, told Reuters.

Six Taiwanese nationals were boarding the bus on a visit to Jama Masjid when the shooting happened, the vehicle's driver said. The historic mosque in the old, congested part of the capital is one of Delhi's most popular tourist attractions. Police said they detained a young man who owned the motorcycle used in the shooting. He lives in the Vasant Kunj area of south Delhi.

An e-mail purportedly from the Indian Mujahideen, a homegrown militant group, was sent to the BBC just after the attack. The statement threatened attacks on the Games and criticized India for alleged oppression in Kashmir.

"We know preparations for the games are at its peak. Beware we too are preparing in full swing for a great surprise," said the e-mail, published on the BBC Hindi service website.

More at: Arab News

See also: Australia TV crew brings bomb kit into CWG venue. DawnNews

Whose wealth? Whose Commons?


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