In exactly 592 days, a little over a year and a half, Delhi is scheduled to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Or at least, India’s capital is scheduled to host what is being billed as the biggest ever event India has seen.
What is actually needed for it to materialise without our embarrassing ourselves, is a miracle. And even more money — Delhi got Rs 1,000 crore in the interim budget on Monday.
What we face is a race against time. The ambitious airport project is facing a cash crunch. Roads and flyovers to be completed by 2008 have hit a dead-end.
The DDA is yet to find a contractor for the Games village flyover. The elevated corridor connecting the Games Village to the Nehru stadium has barely begun.
The venues are officially 40 per cent complete, but walk by them and all you can see is a mess.
Rules stipulate that once the stadiums are ready, sports federations have to test the venue, with some international level participation. Is there time?
Games Village developer EMAAR-MGF has asked for a bailout from the government, while DLF, building India’s largest convention centre with the Games in mind, is threatening a pullout.
India's Olympic Association chief Suresh Kalmadi, who heads the organising committee, remains positive. “Our budget is revenue neutral and we are going to return the money to the government from the money earned through sponsorship, TV rights, merchandising and ticket sales. What we’ve got from the government is only an advance,” he told the Hindustan Times recently.
It's a promise the government might hold him to and it's also one he might find difficult to keep. Even before the global economic downturn happened, sponsors were chary, now, it's much worse.
Ask anyone involved and they admit there is confusion galore among the coordinating agencies — the IOA, Sports Ministry, DDA, Delhi Government, MCD, NDMC, Ministry of Tourism, Urban Development Ministry - for the Games.
Delhi chief secretary Rakesh Mehta was candid. "We are pretty sure of what we need to do with our projects. But overlaps exist in the cultural event areas and soft (infrastructure) areas.
“We have just been told the Delhi government will organise the opening and the closing ceremonies. But there is no clarity on in-between games' events and on ambush marketing.”
And even if it all somehow works out, there's that other big question. How on earth will we pay for the Games?
The $1.5 billion debt from the staging of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal was finally paid off by tax-paying Quebecois and other Canadians in mid-November 2006, 30 years after the Games.
At this point, in election year, no government will talk of levying any cess in future for the Games.
But history has shown us it is a very real possibility that we, the taxpayers, might well foot the bill for India's biggest show.