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2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games. Whose wealth? Whose commons?

Construction Workers.  ©Mehar JyrwaConstruction Workers. ©Mehar Jyrwa
The 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG) will be held in New Delhi, India, from 3-14 October 2010. The declared mission of the Games is to, “..deliver the 'Best Commonwealth Games Ever;” build state-of-the-art sporting and city infrastructure....create a suitable environment and opportunities for the involvement of the citizens in the Games; to showcase the culture and heritage of India; to project Delhi as a global destination; to project India as an economic power; and to leave behind a lasting legacy.”

This has led the Indian government — both at the state and central level — to lose sight of its priorities and its legal and moral commitments to its people. India’s decision to bid for the 2010 Commonwealth Games was neither transparent nor democratic.

Given the many unanswered questions that have marked the CWG process, the Housing and Land Rights Network – South Asia Regional Programme (HLRN) decided to undertake a study on various dimensions of the CWG. The HLRN report concludes that the entire process related to the CWG has been essentially underscored by secrecy, unavailability of information, and unconstitutional activities, with evidence of long-term economic, social and environmental costs for the nation, and specifically for the city of Delhi.

The CWG process, from the time of the bid to the continuous colossal escalation in the total budget, has been characterised by a lack of public participation, transparency, and government accountability. It was not discussed in Parliament before the bid; neither was there any public debate, consultation or opinion poll among the residents of Delhi. The bid offer vouched that the country was “fully committed” to the project. It was approved by the Prime Minister in May 2003 and presented at Marlborough House in the same month. It was approved by the cabinet in September and voted on by the General Assembly in November.

The Social and Economic costs

Preparations for the Games, in all their different manifestations, have already resulted in an irreversible alteration in the social, spatial, economic, and environmental dimensions of the city of Delhi. Much of this has taken place in contravention of democratic governance and planning processes, including the Master Plan for Delhi 2021. The claim that the CWG will help create a “clean, beautiful, vibrant, world class” Delhi has already been proven wrong with grave human costs in the form of slum demolitions, arrests of homeless citizens and beggars, destruction of livelihoods of the urban poor, and environmental degradation. In the five years from 2003 to 2008 close to 350 slum clusters housing nearly 300,000 people were demolished and only about one third of these families have been resettled. Most evictions are generally carried out under the guise of city “beautification” and urban renewal measures. Over the last five years the scale and frequency of evictions in Delhi have gained momentum in the run-up to the Games.

The Bid Document of May 2003 estimated the cost of hosting the Games at £278.4m. In June 2006 it was reported that the cost had escalated to £733m. The Director General of the CWG said on March 24 2010 that the entire estimated cost of the Games was £1.466bn. The main sources of finance are the national government and the Delhi government.

In April 2010 the Delhi finance minister said; “We are broke.” They have no money left to pay for the third phase of the Delhi Metro. In the last six months they have put up bus fares and water tariff, withdrawn subsidy on LPG cylinders and increased VAT on a number of items. The city budget for 2010-11 increased several direct and indirect taxes. Land prices have escalated in the Trans-Yamuna area of the city. Delhi has become a more expensive city because of the Games.

Environmental impact assessment norms have been violated. Hundreds of trees have been felled. Rain water drains have been covered. The Games Village has been built on the flood plains of the River Yamuna causing a drop in the ground water table in Delhi. The river bed is a seismically active area. There has been a significant increase in cases of asthma and allergies directly as a result of the dust from the construction work. Despite all this government officials have launched an “ecological code” claiming that the CWG will be a “Green Games.”

Of the estimated 300,000 workers engaged in construction projects, 100,000 will be unskilled; 10,000 of whom will be women and their 20,000 children. There is rampant exploitation of these workers. This includes low pay, unsafe working conditions, lack of housing, use of child labour, non-registration of workers and denial of social security benefits. More than one hundred deaths have been reported from construction sites. No compensation has been offered to family members of the workers who lost their lives.

Download a copy of this report from Housing and Land Rights Network

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