The idea was to promote sport in India. Somewhere down the line, appeasing the Union sports minister, who is also the head of the governing body of the Sports Authority of India (SAI), too became a priority.
Training centres in constituencies of successive sports ministers, therefore, became proof of the SAI working. One of them even came up in a gurdwara! Another is still a model of non-production.
The foundation stone for a SAI sub-centre in the Hazaribagh district (now in Jharkhand) was laid in 2000. The choice had a lot to do with a cabinet minister in the NDA government. So what when work started on the centre, the politician had lost in the general elections.
Costing the SAI Rs. 13 crore, it was completed in 2008-2009. It has a huge multi-purpose hall and is equipped for five disciplines: athletics, archery, football, volleyball and hockey.
The centre though has yet to become functional!
“We haven’t got the security clearance from the state government,” said SAI secretary Gopal Krishna. Asked why the Hazaribagh district was chosen, Kishan said: “Things change. Then, SAI didn’t perceive the danger, but now there is no question of starting the hostel unless until state government gives us in writing.”
There’s more. Documents available with HT show that in 2011, a top SAI official, Suresh Harmilapi, claimed Rs. 50 lakh to make the Hazaribagh centre operational.
No action was taken against Harmilapi, then director in charge of SAI Eastern Centre in Kolkata. He retired in December 2011 and few days before that was promoted as regional director!
When Syed Shahnawaz Hussian was the Union sports minister in 2000, his constituency Kishanganj became a part of the SAI. The Special Area Games centre in Mani Shankar Aiyar’s constituency Mayiladuthurai in Tamil Nadu cost Rs. 18 crore.
And former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee was instrumental in getting a centre to come up in West Bengal’s Bolpur.
Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa got one to come up in Sangrur and so eager were SAI officials to please the former Union sports minister that they set one up in a gurdwara to train athletes, volleyball players and boxers.
Non-vegetarian food was barred for trainees. The residential wing has since been moved outside but food continues to be only vegetarian.
A SAI official posted there said to include non-vegetarian food the proposal must first be cleared by management committee of the gurdwara.
Despite audit objection that money had been spent wrongly, there hasn’t been any action against the officials involved in setting up centres in Patan and Nanded region of Maharashtra.
The centres started in 1997 and were closed in 1999. In Patan around R29.61 lakh were spent, while Rs. 25 lakh was spent on the Nanded centre.
“But nothing concrete happened,” said one of the officials of SAI on condition of anonymity. Auditors have also raised objection on the funds spent to at centre in Kurnool.
SAI centres in the Gujarat region of Devgarh Baria and Rajkot are also in gross violation of policy to start a new venture. The department has almost spent `12 lakh to set up a centre in Rajkot.