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The towering similarity

Delhi's Games Village and Mumbai's Adarsh society have a lot in common, writes Manoj Misra.

india Updated: May 21, 2011 16:48 IST
Manoj Misra

As we left the meeting on November 12, 2007 with the Group of Ministers (GoM) on the Commonwealth Games (CWG), then headed by Arjun Singh and which included all the high and mighty of the UPA 1 — including a current Union minister who had, in 2000 as a senior Opposition MP, questioned in Parliament the construction of the Akshardham complex on the river bed — we hoped that our appeal to relocate the proposed Games Village (khel gaon) away from the Yamuna river bed had struck a positive chord with the GoM. For our delegation led by veteran journalist and diplomat Kuldip Nayar had been told by the GoM, "you have made your case well, now leave it to us to decide."

Soon enough our faint hopes were dashed to the ground as the GoM began to troop out of the meet just after we left. An overwhelming political consideration for choosing the river bed as the site of the Games Village had overridden our appeal against the construction of the high-rise luxury apartments strangely called 'village' on the ecologically fragile and seismically risky river bed. It's notable that during all our meetings with senior political and executive functionaries involved with the planning of the CWG, no one ever disputed the facts we presented to them. Yet, most defended the location of the Village on the ground that there was little time left or little of the river bed is involved or, a rather bizarre reasoning, that 'I can cite you ten more reasons why the site is wrong, but I have a duty to perform'.

We were once even advised to pray when we raised an obvious query: what would happen if the floods were to come calling just before the Games in 2010? We all know that floods in Yamuna in September almost led to the Games being called off. Incidentally when the MCD, which was battling both an outbreak of dengue and a flooding river, blamed the wrong site selection for the Village, it only strengthened the argument that we had been trying to bring to the attention of the authorities since 2007.

No one was willing to look into the encroachment of the river bed by a state agency, while a committee constituted by the Delhi High Court went about removing, at times even forcefully, jhuggi jhopris from around the same river bed. That an unsavoury precedence was about to be set by the state using an existing wrong, the Akshardham complex, to justify another mattered little to anyone.

So now after the Games, when a number of investigating agencies are looking into the cases of corruption and mismanagement, we remain flabbergasted as to why the fountainhead of it all, namely the politically-instigated and motivated selection of a site on the river bed for the Village in the eastern part of a city whence all but one of the Games venues were located there, remains un-investigated.

Moreover, the ripple effects of the decision come in the form of the construction of an unnecessary flyover over a bridge and an elevated road on a drain, raising of sound barriers along the nearby railway track and the national highway, conversion of a temporary parking space on the river bed into a permanent bus depot etc.

In view of the recent high-profile land grab incident in Mumbai, it's odd as to how, on environmental grounds, the construction of a multi-storey building on the river bed is any different from a similar construction on a coast? While the latter doesn't have a clearance from the environment ministry, the former has a clearance that saw four versions and three ultimatums before permission to construct temporary structures got converted into allowing the construction of permanent ones.

Let the investigating agencies probe the Village ab initio so that the uncanny parallels between it and the Adarsh society scam are brought to light. For example, if flats in Adarsh society were meant for the Kargil war heroes and war widows, then the Games Village, which is now being eyed by many within and outside the government, was originally meant to become university accommodation.

Thus, while issues of morality and avarice may be the foundation of the 'wrong' in the case of Adarsh, in this case it's khel gaon's dangerous location, which is prone to both floods and earthquakes. But is anyone either listening or interested?

Manoj Misra is Convener, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan. The views expressed by the author are personal.