The timing could not have been worse. The collapse of a pedestrian overbridge near the main venue just 12 days before the Commonwealth Games has cast fresh doubts over whether the event can be staged successfully.
While allegations and excuses fly thick and fast, it will be unwise to miss the larger picture. In spite of serious security and infrastructure setbacks — such as the attack on Taiwanese tourists at Jama Masjid and the collapse of the pedestrian bridge — it is still possible that Delhi will be “ready” for the big event by October 3 and that last minute quick fixes – or jugaad– will hold during the Games when the world will be watching us closely.
For the record, the stadiums are nearly complete and the Games village kitchen is up and running. The five-star flats for athletes should also be spruced up in time even if that requires a few hundred sweepers and dog catchers working overtime.
But the questions remain: will these games leave Delhi a better city to live in — as the 1982 Asiad had done? And, can a nation with great power aspirations depend on jugaad to see large projects through?
Ifs and buts
Of course, the organisers will have to keep counting their blessings. If participating countries do not lose their nerve, if patchwork repair jobs hold, if rain and dengue do not play spoilsport and if terror does not strike, we may well have a successful games.
But can a 12-day event, however big and successful, justify such profligacy? With an estimated budget of Rs 31,000 crore, the 2010 event is the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever. In 2006, Melbourne managed the same with $1.1 billion (about Rs 5,200 crore). The 2002 Manchester games ran up a bill of 300 million pounds (about Rs 2,400 crore) and the 2014 Games in Glasgow is being organised on a similar budget.
The expenditure on the 2010 games has shot up 16 times over the last seven years since Delhi bid for the Games. Significantly, much of this money came from the exchequer and not private funding as was projected initially.
“When we began planning for the Games, the idea was to get things done through private investment. But in the end, the government ended up paying for everything,” said A K Jain, former planning commissioner of the Delhi Development Authority.
The Games Organising Committee was supposed to generate Rs 1,600 crore through merchandising, broadcasting, sponsorship and ticket sales. Just two weeks to the Games, the collection from sponsorship stands at a paltry Rs 650 crore.
It would still have been possible to justify such a large outlay if the projects being implemented had brought about generational changes in the Capital’s infrastructure or civic facilities.
The 2002 Games, for example, completely overhauled east Manchester, which had remained decrepit since the departure of heavy industries between the 1960s and the 1980s. In 2006, Melbourne revamped its airport, cleaned the Yarra river, and renovated and enlarged a Pragati Maidan-type expo centre.
But lack of planning and the pressure to meet deadlines have left big question marks on the lasting infrastructural legacy of the 2010 Games.
No central authority
Ironically, this has been largely a self-inflicted crisis. Delhi bid to host the Games in 2003 but it was only in 2008 that work on most infrastructure projects began.
Then, there was no effort to set up a Games task force, central authority – like the one headed by Rajiv Gandhi in the run-up to the 1982 Asian Games – that would be in overall charge of all Games-related projects.
Instead, the Indian Olympic Association, the Union sports ministry and various departments of the Delhi government and the Union urban development ministry were given sometimes overlapping responsibilities. This contributed to the all-round confusion that is now giving way to chaos.
“In a hurry to complete work, the government picked (just about any) contractor to execute the projects. While they met the financial capabilities parameter, many have little experience in using sophisticated technologies and equipment imported from developed countries,” said Pradeep Chaturvedi, safety expert and former chairman, Safety & Quality Forum, an association of engineers. “We do not even have skilled labour to execute such projects.”
Little long-term benefit
Lack of planning also deprived the Capital a rare chance of upgrading its civic facilities. More than Rs 3,000 crore is being spent on road improvement, streetlights, streetscaping, etc. But much of this budget is being spent on hurriedly developing “world-class” facilities in the games zones while the rest of Delhi struggles with basic standards.
Digging up long stretches of the city also presented an opportunity to overhaul the Capital’s antiquated drainage and water distribution systems – responsible for frequent water logging, road cave-ins and loss of 40 per cent of treated water through seepage – without further inconveniencing people. But there was little planning to coordinate such projects.
“If you paint some parts of city in gold, it will obviously look good. But the question is: do you need to paint them in gold? This extravagance is based on the desire to be world class and not first class. In the process, we have just created an unequal city,” said town planner A.G.K. Menon.
He argued that the city could have benefited had the funds gone to where it was required. “The games could have happened in (the under-developed) outskirts of Narela or Bawana,” he added.
The government, however, says, if not Narela, another outskirt of the city – Trans-Yamuna – has been developed with the Games money.
“East Delhi is among the most densly populated and least developed parts of the city. We have built flyovers and taken the Metro there. East Delhi has developed better due to the Games than even east Manchester,” said Delhi’s Chief Secretary Rakesh Mehta.
Justifying the lavish spending, the government argued that Delhi will
reap the benefits of the pre-Games
overhaul and that metro lines, power plants, roads and bridges do not come cheap.
“In India, cities get the least investment. This is the first time that we have made such huge investment. There is end-to-end designing of roads. New power plants will make Delhi an inverter-free city,” Mehta said.
Will it? Delhiites will be keeping their fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, many people will be ruing the opportunity India has lost of projecting its arrival on the world stage, as China had done with the Beijing Olympics.