Politicians' games

Published : Oct 22, 2010 00:00 IST

A BATHROOM IN an apartment in the Games Village in New Delhi, in this undated handout photograph received in London on September 23.-REUTERS

A BATHROOM IN an apartment in the Games Village in New Delhi, in this undated handout photograph received in London on September 23.-REUTERS

Politicians have battened on sports bodies like vultures on carcasses; they can be driven off if the bodies are given a new life with people dedicated to sports.

BY the time this is read the Commonwealth Games will be under way or will have been called off. At the time of this writing, either is a distinct possibility. Even if it is held, what must not be lost sight of is the disgraceful manner in which the different authorities prepared for the Games. To begin with, will the Government of India never ever realise that it is impossible to administer the capital region with a variety of authorities none of which considers it necessary to work with the others leave alone subordinate to any of the others? Can it not see that it is madness to persist with this kind of system, if one can call it that, merely to satisfy petty political considerations, which are, most certainly, the only reason why it is kept that way by whichever party comes to power in the Centre. Must politics always be the only consideration?

Was it necessary, consequently, for the sake of some perceived political advantage, which can at best be cheap and not prudent or beneficial to the country, to make India a laughing stock in the eyes of the world, as a country that is incompetent and a bumbling, eternally quarrelling and arguing set of mediocre people who cannot be trusted to organise an international event, and that too one that is not really very important in the pantheon of international events?

Athletes and officials from other countries came to a Games Village that had excreta in the apartments, stray dogs wandering about, paan stains on the walls, filth in the rooms, taps that produced no water and dirty linen in the bedrooms. No one had obviously inspected the apartments all the apartments, which was absolutely essential before they were locked. Common sense says that if you are going to entertain guests you will check the room you have for them, ensure that everything is clean and neat and that the room is comfortable before you invite them. One concedes that there were over a thousand guests. But consider the money spent on these apartments and their furnishing and on hiring people to clean and maintain them the bill runs into crores of rupees, as does everything else to do with the Games.

This was the worst and most shameful aspect of the Games. The disgrace moved into the realm of the contemptibly absurd when the portly Lalit Bhanot, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, observed that they may have one standard of hygiene and we may have another or words to that effect, which were equally ludicrous and monumentally foolish.

Then we had the equally contemptible excuse given by all the construction agencies for the fall in the quality of their work and for missing deadlines the incessant rain. True, the monsoon was very heavy this year, but, did no one, at any level of the government, have the foresight to plan and execute the construction work involved before the onset of the monsoon? That the Commonwealth Games were to be held in Delhi was known even before 2004, when the National Democratic Alliance government was in power. All the flyovers, bridges, widening of roads, building of the new airport terminal, all of these could have been completed before the rains started, even if this year's rains had been scanty or delayed. That is surely what management is about.

But let us be a little flexible on this score. There may have been insurmountable difficulties to do with coordination among the array of authorities that govern the capital region, and the Central government may have not had the competence to weld them all together into one coherent authority or government. In some cases, the Uttar Pradesh government refused to part with land, in others the armed forces Army, Navy or Air Force may have been recalcitrant, in some other cases that bumbling body called the Municipal Corporation of Delhi could have held up the moving of drains and sewers, or the power agencies could have done the same with cables. Consequently, some construction work was inevitably delayed and went on even when the rains arrived.

But that again will provide no excuse. The Metro authorities, headed by that exacting taskmaster E. Sreedharan, built no less than three lines, underground and over ground, and commissioned them before the start of the Games. They had to work in the rain, they had their share of accidents, but they did their job, and they did it in time. We may, as lay people, be forgiven for wondering how that agency could do its work, while the Delhi Development Authority, the Central Public Works Department, the State Public Works Department and everyone else involved in some kind of construction or beautification work floundered, leaving some projects unfinished the worst and most shameful one being the redevelopment of Connaught Place and finishing others in a haphazard manner with stones and rubbish littering roads and becoming lethal to buses, cars, trucks and pedestrians.

About a month before the Games were to start (too late in the day to be sure), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered the Cabinet Secretary to hand-pick some officers to oversee the organising of all aspects of the Games. The media reported this, even giving the names of the officers. Finally, it seemed, something would happen. Nothing did. The officers and their supervision were never heard of again. It is said that Suresh Kalmadi, Chairman of the Organising Committee, ensured that they were rendered impotent. Perhaps he did, perhaps he did not. The sad fact is that they made no difference to the organisation.

To come back to that dreadful example of complete mismanagement the dirty apartments in the Games Village even if one accepts that Lalit Bhanot does not know the difference between a dirty apartment and a clean one, what were the hand-picked Indian Administrative Service officers doing? Writing up notes for the Cabinet Secretary? They obviously did not think it necessary to inspect the apartments. That should worry us, as these officers will hold key positions in government in the course of time.

One is not raising other basic issues here the decision to locate the Games Village on the floodplain of the Yamuna river, the decision to hold events right in the middle of the capital city, and other such disastrous decisions. For the 2012 Olympics Games, London is not scheduling events in and around Hyde Park or Trafalgar Square. They are not holding the marathon or any similar event on Oxford Street, whereas here such events are to be held in a part of Connaught Place and India Gate. The Olympic events are being located in a part of London that requires to be redeveloped. Had the Commonwealth Games been located in Bawana or a similar place it would have made more sense. But sense was at a premium during the planning and holding of the Games.

Once the Games end, the citizens of Delhi will breathe a sigh of relief, but that will also be the time to identify those who inflicted all this on this great city and ensure that they have nothing to do with sports again. Politicians have battened on sports bodies like vultures on a carcass; they can be driven off if the bodies are revived and given a fresh lease of life with new people dedicated to sports and to keeping them clean.

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