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The Games India won

Asiad to Commonwealth: How a Delhi technocrat turned a 135-acre cauliflower field into a Games Village ‘without seepage or snakes’, writes Aasheesh Sharma.

delhi Updated: Oct 03, 2010 10:59 IST
Aasheesh Sharma

He’s bitter. When a 73-year-old technocrat who helped build India’s reputation as an international sporting venue sees it crumble in newspapers and on television, it leaves him disillusioned.

As he spreads a yellowing map of the Asiad Village on the table at his north Delhi home, Ranjit Singh Jindal’s hands tremble slightly. But when he begins to talk, the voice does not quiver. And the chief engineer of the Asiad Village during the 1982 Games doesn’t mince words.

“After the Asiad, Rajiv Gandhi said ‘If God took six days to make the world, an Indian engineer, if asked, could do it in just five days.’ Such was his confidence in us,” says Jindal, “In our Village, there was no leakage, no seepage, no snakes.”

Jindal says the Asiad organisers didn’t get seven years to build the Village. “After Charan Singh rejected India’s bid, Indira Gandhi came to power and announced in July 1980 that we’d play host. We just had 15 odd months.”

Born in in 1935 in Samalkha near Panipat, Haryana, Jindal was known to deliver big-ticket projects on time. Apart from the Village, he’s also worked on the Vikas Minar, the ISBT, Nehru Place and the Jama Masjid redevelopment plan.

In September 1980, he inherited a 135-acre field on what is Siri Fort now, where former South Delhi MP Chowdhary Dilip Singh cultivated cauliflower. For one and half years, when Jindal worked 16 hours a day, his wife saw very little of the planner-engineer.

When his team of three superintending engineers, 14 executive engineers, about 45 assistant engineers, along with more than 100 junior engineers, completed the Village two months before the November 19, 1982 deadline, Sports Minister Buta Singh called it a miracle. India had broken into the hallowed club of western powers such as the US, Germany, Japan, Canada and the Soviet Union.

The Asiad Village was a challenge greater than Commonwealth Village. "We had a big reception centre and an administrative block, too," he says. It housed another architectural marvel in which Rajiv took particular interest: A cultural centre modelled on the Bolshevik Theatre, which doubled as a weightlifting venue during the day. "The organising panel commissioned a special stage for the Siri Fort auditorium. It led to an unusual demand."

Gandhi liked to inspect the site late at night. After one such 1 a.m. recce, he asked Jindal to procure wood for the stage. “I couldn’t say no. So, I got the godown of Omprakash Fatehchand opened at three in the morning.”

As the CW Games begin, Jindal says the fervour during Asiad 82 was something else. He remembers a younger and much-leaner Sharad Pawar queuing up at Pragati Maidan to buy a ticket and Jagmohan sending his security staff in a tizzy. “Since the high-speed lift in the tower wasn’t ready, the L-G travelled in a bucket used to ferry stones.”

Professor OP Jain from IIT Delhi ensured there were no structural flaws. “The Talkatora was originally planned as an indoor stadium. Jain found the design of the roof unsafe. The roof would have come down when the shuttering was removed. The structural engineer conceded it was bad design. Later, Mrs Gandhi told Jain: Aapne hamari izzat bacha di,” says Jindal. Jindal puts down the Commonwealth 2010 mess to three reasons: absence of a single unified authority, outsourcing to a sole builder and indecisiveness.

Didn’t the project face any glitches? “One,” confesses Jindal. “In a late-night inspection, Rajiv saw a hole in the ceiling that had been left uncovered. He reached Jagmohan on the wireless. As my phone wasn’t working, the L-G summoned me by calling the Ashok Vihar police station. When the cops rang my bell at 2 am, my wife was nervous. By the time I reached Khel Gaon, everything was sorted and the trio of Rajiv, Arun Nehru and Arun Singh was having tea, which had come from the PM’s Safdarjung Road residence.”

When it came to challenging Asiad projects, such as the 60-metre tower which housed a water tank, restaurants and a viewing gallery, Rajiv didn’t take no for an answer. “After L & T and Gannon Dunkerley declined, DDA took it up and hit a roadblock.”

The director general of civil aviation said the tower was in an air funnel zone, and couldn’t be cleared. “Rajiv intervened and permission was delivered within hours,” says Jindal. “If today’s organisers had displayed this decisiveness, our image wouldn’t have been dented.”

In 2006, Jindal wrote to a DDA official warning him of the pitfalls in the preparations. He is yet to get a response. “After the Asiad, we were confident even of hosting the Olympics. Today, I am not so certain…”