Entering the Commonwealth Games Village is like entering a war zone. Barricades, armed commandos and high colourless walls topped by concertina wire fencing greet you. This is expected.
What isn't, despite all the hoopla of the past week, is the shabby, sorry state of affairs inside the Village, especially the residential quarters. Apart from the kitchen and dining area — top-notch with excellent food and service — there is already a gently dilapidated air to everything here, especially the construction: Even the grass is patchy, and the trees and shrubs, obviously brought here from elsewhere, are dying.
Take Tower 1, where the Red Dragon of Wales is draped proudly across many balconies. Chris Jenkins, the Welsh chef de mission declared on Saturday morning that “the apartments are much improved and we hope to move in soon”. We have to wonder what they were like earlier.
Shoddy work in progress
The flat we saw here had seepage, peeling plaster, unpainted walls with dirt marks, cement patches on tiles and walls, and an inch of dust all around. If this furniture was brand-new, as we've been told it is, then someone needs to ask who decided it was. It is scratched, chipped in corners and ugly but fits in with the rest of the place in being generally run-down.
One flush did not work and while there was electricity, no fans or lights worked in one of the bedrooms. The bathrooms across are tiny and the ones that aren't are built badly, with no demarcation for the shower area. If you take a shower, you'll need to dry the commode just in front of it every time, as there's no curtain either. (There's also no toilet paper and no toiletries, but perhaps these will come in by the morning).
Damp, dark and dingy
But the Tower 1 flat was still better than what we saw in another tower, where a lone Indian flag was in evidence. There, the light in the passage didn't work, and as you take a careful left on the ground floor and go through that dark, dank hallway, you can see across to another hallway. In between, inside the building, is construction debris, refuse and mud. The basement is water-logged, and the stairwells dirty, stained and damp.
A government official present told the Hindustan Times that water-logging was unavoidable, with the Village "being so close to the river bed". Organising Committee chairperson Suresh Kalmadi blamed it on the rain, saying "it's been raining all the time so there will be water-logging".
But this is brand-new construction and even though Kalmadi, asking for support from the media, called the Village "quite smart", it is anything but. And, in any case, as a Malaysian delegate put it, "workers were still doing their job when we moved in this morning". Kalmadi admitted "there is much work left and we will do it", but really, with a week left, where's the time?
However, as OC secretary-general Lalit Bhanot explained, they had "no choice but to take what was given" to them. "What were we supposed to do?" asked Bhanot. "We are definitely not responsible for the construction — you have to ask the builders."
A costly affair
We did. The land was provided by the Delhi Development Authority, while international realty firm EMAAR-MGF built the flats. The total budget for this project was 1800 crore. At the time of the economic recession last year, EMAAR-MGF declared an inability to fund the completion of the project because people were not booking flats in advance and then received a Rs. 700 crore bailout package from the Government of India, in exchange for which the DDA received 333 of the 1168 flats.
That they finally came up with this shoddy construction is unforgivable, especially against the backdrop of a world Games and the embarrassment that this Village is to India. While DDA refused comment, a spokesperson for EMAAR-MGF said, "The Commonwealth Games Residential Village is a Public Private Partnership project between Emaar MGF and the DDA. The project was completed and handed over to the DDA / OC in June, 2010 as per the project development agreement with DDA in a clean and habitable condition. Post this other agencies stepped in to provide furniture, fittings, fixtures and temporary overlays. In the last few days, in the spirit of the games, we have been involved in getting the Games Village ready in partnership with other stakeholders".
The flats, incidentally, are to be converted into East Delhi's priciest residence after the Games, with apartments estimated to be in the Rs. 2-4.75 crore range. A South Africa delegate told HT on Saturday, "The finishing leaves much to be desired. You (India) could have done a better job with the money you spent." Sadly, after spending time in the Village, we can't help but agree.