Gigantic billboards were used in Beijing to shut out more unpleasant sights like the poorer parts of the city when it hosted the Olympics. But then what do you expect in an undemocratic society went the logic. But what’s happened in Delhi as we bumble towards the Commonwealth Games seems worse given that we are a democratic society. At least 42 labourers, according to official figures, have died in construction-related accidents as the authorities push at breakneck speed to complete the venues. Independent observers put the figure as being much higher since many who are working on the sites are not registered with the construction labourer welfare board. This means that many who are working do not get the minimum wages, have no safety precautions and no regulated working hours. Few, unlike a former sports minister, want the Games to fail at this stage given the colossal input of money and effort, not to mention that hoary old chestnut, India’s international prestige.
But, surely, there could have been much more thought given to the conditions of those who will make this happen and then fade away into the background, artificial or otherwise? When the organisers and the Delhi government speak of making the city a world-class one, we presume it means for every citizen living in it. This spirit did not seem in evidence when the authorities summarily got rid of 40,000 rickshaw-pullers, small-shop vendors, foodstall hawkers and pavement dwellers so that they would not be eyesores to visitors. Were they rehabilitated or do they face a life of penury now? So far, there are no answers to these questions even as a maelstrom of controversies rage on the substandard infrastructure and dodgy contracts. For those who have died, there is little chance of adequate compensation since most labourers have been working with no legitimate papers. The so-called campaign against child labour seems to have gone for a toss with children openly working in many places. As for safety and shelter for the women workers, no one’s even talking about it.
Given the haste with which contracts were handed out, bypassing all norms in many cases, surely it was the duty of the government and the Games’ organisers to have had a proper registration procedure for those labouring in harsh weather conditions so that India may shine on the global stage. It certainly did not lack for resources. It hardly enhances the prestige of a democratic country to showcase a sporting extravaganza, howsoever successful, if it has been done on the backs of the vulnerable whose safety has been severely compromised. This really, is not playing by the rules of any game, even by our somewhat elastic standards.