Two years ago this week, Delhi was a different city, at least in certain pockets. Despite the collapsing pedestrian bridge, the flooded Games village and the bad international press, our city managed to pull off a decent Commonwealth Games show in those 12 days in October
Our sporting facilities, though not spectacular like Beijing’s Bird Nest or grand like London's Olympics stadium, did not disappoint the athletes. Outside, with manicured sidewalks, a new elevated road, shiny low-floor buses, sleek steel bus stops, a dash of futuristic public art and street furniture, modern public toilets, the city's civic infrastructure, it seemed, had made a generational leap.
We drove in lanes because there was a fine of Rs. 2,000 for entering the road space demarcated for the Games traffic. We didn't litter the streets because there were volunteers watching and it was not difficult to locate trash bins. For a change, men used public toilets and left the roadside walls dry. Women didn't feel unsafe walking alone even hours after sundown. Cops were everywhere and the crime rate dipped.
Like any other city bidding to host big Games, Delhi too pledged to use the opportunity to transform itself into a “world-class” city and put Rs. 20,000 crore of taxpayers' money into it. But much like the Potemkin village, the Games’ legacy soon fell apart. The stadiums are not in the best of shape. The hurriedly laid pavements have crumbled. Street furniture, fancy lampposts and trash bins are missing, possibly stolen. The waterless toilets have been shut down.
Also, the CWG itself has become a bad word, thanks to cost overruns and allegations of multi-crore scams. Such is the ignominy that many of those who got associated with the Games to embellish their CVs have removed the reference. Even the man who played Shera, the mascot, wants nothing to do with the Games.
Creating, and then protecting, transformative legacy is a challenge for any city hosting the Games. During much of the last century, Olympics were used to show the dominance of different political ideologies. But the 1992 Barcelona Olympics brought a shift in focus when host cities started using Games as an opportunity for urban redevelopment and renewal.
London's Olympics bid emphasised that the Games would not only be a celebration of sports but a transforming force for one of the poorest and most deprived areas of east London. The 2002 CWG in Manchester were aimed to regenerate east Manchester, which had witnessed a slump due to the relocation of many heavy industries, the mainstay of the local economy. Melbourne used the 2006 CWG to spruce up areas along Yarra, a polluted river flowing through the city.
Descending into corruption and chaos, and scrambling to somehow meet the deadline, Delhi had no time to think of a long-term inheritance framework. Even after two years, no questions have been asked about the civic, social or economic benefits the Games yielded. But it may not be too late yet. Sydney rebuilt its Games legacy almost 10 years after the 2000 Olympics. Authorities in Delhi should set up at least an agency for regular monitoring and maintenance of the surviving CWG assets.
More importantly, Delhi must resurrect the work and civic culture that made the capital so much more liveable during those 12 days in 2010. Agencies such as the Delhi Police, NDMC and MCD showed us they could do away with absenteeism and the citizens behaved themselves. Are we game to live up to those standards?
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