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Crude and brutal scams underlying the Delhi Commonwealth Games

From: Heritage Games, cleaning up the debris, Hazards Centre, 2010

Beginning from July 2010 there has been a glare of floodlights on the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. In the early weeks media hounds began enquiring into the state of preparedness with photographs of inchoate ditches and rubble, loose masonry and cement, incomplete roofs and walls. Then the first rains came and, as everything began leaking and the water gathered, the focus changed to the impediments to traffic and the inconvenience to the public.

Soon, however, with the first exposés of contracts and sweetheart deals, the emphasis changed to corruption. By the first week of August all the Opposition Parties slammed into the Government in Parliament with charges of “loot of public money” and demands that heads should roll. While, at the same time, notable sports personalities like tennis great Vijay Amritraj and patriotic first citizens like entrepreneur Subrata Roy Sahara were issuing emotional appeals to “rise as one united nation” for the “pride of the nation” and postpone the witch-hunt until after the Games. The curious citizen might be forgiven for wondering what exactly are the Games and why have they aroused so much passion on both sides?

Developers, real estate agents, construction companies, and people at the high end of the tourism, advertising, marketing, and hospitality industries rake in profits, while the rest of the citizens bear the debts and the social and environmental impacts – repression, displacement, workers' deaths, corruption, and degeneration – for years to come.

We circulated our report to a hundred selected Members of Parliament, belonging to all political parties, in late 2007, and their aides were reminded telephonically about the report; but not one responded or even acknowledged the receipt of the document. For three long years the people's representatives have not cared to enquire into the nature of this sporting extravaganza or to examine what has been its impact on the city's citizens, where is the money coming from, and who is spending it: which is why it is somewhat ironical to see some of them protesting so agitatedly in Parliament now. It is this spirit of uncritical acceptance of the “nation” and its needs that has provided the space for the laser-ballooning of the Games into a monster of dismaying proportions.

The Organising Committee, of course, continues to maintain its stock-in-trade remark that it is responsible only for its Rs1,620cr (£226.7m), and that it will generate an estimated revenue of around Rs1,708cr (£239m) from international/domestic broadcasting, sponsorship, ticketing, licensed merchandise, donations etc – although even that is now open to serious doubt. There is also the Games Federation-sponsored Commonwealth Business Club of India that seeks to fulfil its objective “to market the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and promote and facilitate business networking as well as showcase the country as a preferred business destination for the global business community”.

And there is the Memorandum of Understanding that the Indian Olympic Association has signed with the Confederation of Indian Industry in relation to the business prospects of Delhi's bid and the staging of the Games. All these point to the true commercial under-pinning of the Games.

In this context the statement of the Chief Minister of Delhi bears special mention: she is reported to have said that the government has done in one year what it would ordinarily have taken five years to do. This speed is of the essence to drive the engines of “growth” in the capital. Otherwise the Games will be over and there will be nothing left to legitimise the spending of astronomical amounts in the name of “national pride”, with no one to account for it either: unless one wants to face all those pesky busybodies who are enquiring too closely into the nation and the state of its citzens.

Who might want to know why the flats of the Commonwealth Games Village are being auctioned off at Rs 2 crores each when the Commonwealth Games Evaluation Commission was assured in 2006 that post the Games they would become “university accommodation”; or that the Village was supposed to feature only low to medium rise buildings; or that the Government had confirmed its intention to develop the venues in an “environmental friendly” manner. Because, eventually, the expenditure for this remarkable enterprise will have to be paid for by this “nation” – whether it participates in watching the Games or not (the question of playing obviously does not arise).

This report, therefore, sets out to document what is being, or has been, spent on the Games in Delhi; who is paying for it now; and what is going to be the future impact on the city and the nation. It is based on what is available in the public domain, in the media and in announcements by the official spokespersons, and how ordinary citizens see and relate the changes in their own lives.

Individual, personal changes are intrinsically linked to larger systemic changes. The ecology of the city is changing rapidly in complex ways and it is sometimes impossible to capture the moment completely. In society, as in nature, altering any part of an interdependent networked relationship impacts every other part in the system. In this process, many precious elements can 'disappear,' and become 'absent'. This appears obvious from the history of planned urban change and its underlying concepts.

During the 1840s, the notion of 'efficiency' was made operable in Paris by Baron Haussmann through 'regularising', that is, by demolishing congested properties in the inner city and creating long, regular streets lined with imposing apartment buildings, with stores and offices located on the first floor. Called Haussmannisation, the process became the cornerstone of the urban renewal programme in the United States of America, where it was implemented during the 1950s and the 1960s to decongest inner cities, involving the demolition of existing structures and moving the residents out. Backed by several billions of federal dollars, the programme cleared and redeveloped about 1,000 square miles of urban land and, during the process, demolished 600,000 housing units that housed nearly two million people. Combined with Euclidean zoning, such a process of 'renewal' contributed to developing urban sprawl and huge public costs.

The Commonwealth Games 2010 conforms to the same notions of urban transformation, with an adhoc violation of planning processes and without public disclosure of and debate on all decisions related to the Games. Who then are the real players?

Download full report from: Play the Game

See also: Commonwealth Games. Whose Wealth? Whose Commons?

See also: Delhi loses patience with the Commonwealth Games


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