The Commonwealth Fiasco

A major feather in India’s cap is the hosting of the annual Commonwealth Games in New Delhi this year. While this is the largest sporting event that India has ever hosted and heralds its arrival as a major power in the international arena, it has run into its share of roadblocks along the way. In a country which has a total debt of Rs. 2898917.52 crores , including public, internal and external debt, pumping in Rs. 2,296.43 crores into an 11-day sporting event seems a  tad materialistic. In addition to this, there has been another Rs. 687 crores allocated for overheads on March 19th. The budget for the Games started out asRs.  767 crores and has vastly inflated along the way.

The Games, which  are held every four years involve 71 teams from 53 nations. They have only been held once in Asia, in Kuala Lampur in 1998. In 2003, India bid to host the Games and was awarded that right by the Commonwealth Games Federation after winning over Hamilton, Canada’s bid with 46-22 votes.

However, after the initial celebration died down, India was faced with a major problem: the lack of facilities. However, the Government pledged that Delhi would receive a facelift and all-new stadiums and facilities, including a Games Village that would host upto 8500 athletes and officials. The rosy picture they painted was smudged very shortly.

While 400,000 contract workers were hired for construction of the 19 venues for the Games, deadlines fell through constantly. A report in October 2009 showed that only six of them had been completed on time, despite earlier assurances by the Government that all construction would be completed by March 2010. This constant pushing forward of deadlines and general disorder has prompted the Commonwealth Games Federation to muse aloud as to whether India will be ready by October 3, 2010, and whether the image of the Commonwealth Games is being upheld by the country. Even officials admit a delay, but remain optimistic that the scheduled construction will be completed. The Games Village faced criticism that its construction on the floodplain of the Yamuna would create environmental hazards, however the Supreme Court overruled the petition filed in the High Court.

The SPM Aquatic Complex, for which many concerns have been raised was supposed to have a completion target of 93 percent in May, which was reduced to 46 percent for June. Similarly, The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium which was supposed to be 75 percent complete in May, was downgrade to 61 percent in June. Reports have revealed that construction will be overshot by three months. India cannot afford to cut corners at the last minute after announcing its grand plans without being subject to intense scrutiny, nationally and internationally.

The construction activities have also come into the limelight due to the poor conditions for labour. Many workers have come from outside, yet have no facilities for their children and receive below minimum wages. Though NGOs are starting mobile crèches for the extra 10,000 children in Delhi, it is the Governments job to allocate, under the law, a fraction of the crores it has spent on construction for welfare of the workers. Yet, they live in squalor without homes or toilets, when a mere 0.35 percent of our Government’s rising budget for the Games would cover these facilities for them.

India will no doubt pull off the Commonwealth Games in grand style and make the required adjustments to make the event run smoothly. Delhi will also probably benefit from the increase in transport facilities, which include bus stands, expansion of Metro rail services and a renovation of Terminal 3 at Indira Gandhi Airport. However, the problems it took on to pull off the most expensive Commonwealth Games in history would make many wonder: Was it really worth it?

Vrinda Manocha