Games we needn’t play

Joginder Singh ji
Former Director- CBI

The Government squandered taxpayers’ money to showcase false pride. We should have used it to uplift the poor

Have the organisers been interpreting a bit too literally the meaning of the words, Commonwealth Games? Having been the Secretary of the State Sports Council and Director of Youth Services and Sports in Karnataka for over five years, this writer has ensured that apart from token aid running into hundreds and, in some cases, thousands, big money was rarely spent on sport infrastructure in the State capital.

M Chinnaswamy, after whom the cricket stadium is named, was a frequent visitor to my office and all that was sanctioned for its construction was the land and a token grant of a few lakhs, the clout of sport bodies and the influence of then Chief Ministers D Devaraj Urs and R Gundu Rao notwithstanding.

Hence it is shocking to witness the profligacy and cost overruns of the Government in hosting the Commonwealth Games the bid for which it won way back in 2003. Only token funds should have been made available in the first place.

Good investigative journalism and a free Press have brought the extravagance, nepotism and unbridled corruption that raised the CWG budget from Rs 6,000 crore to Rs 70,000 crore resulting in an overrun of 1,300 per cent into the public domain.

Counting the indirect and hidden expenditure of other organisations and even some Government departments, this amount might even go upto Rs one lakh crore of taxpayers’ money the Government had no business to waste. The hosting of the Games thus constitutes one of the biggest financial scams in history revealing deep-rooted corruption in several spheres. With no inbuilt vigilance checks and zero accountability, it was bound to be there.

The scale of corruption on the part of the Government departments and agencies, however, pales in comparison to the charges against members of the CWG Organising Committee. If Rajeev Gandhi’s estimate of only 15 per cent of development benefits reaching the grassroots is followed, only a few thousands crore has actually been spent and the rest has been pocketed. If one goes by Mr Rahul Gandhi’s assessment of only 10 paise out of Rs 10 being actually invested, then the figures arrived at would spark further outrage. Hence one wonders if the name Commonwealth Games has been the source of confusion in the minds of the authorities and the organisers who have, perhaps, taken things too literally. One of the consequences of the mess is that the Prime Minister has had to step in to review the progress of the preparations a month before the opening of the Games to ensure that we do not have to suffer the humiliation of being unable to host it.

Games are supposed to be a source of pleasure and healthy entertainment. But for some people — none of them having a sporting career, it is a means of getting ahead. Many have been able to secure for their unemployed family members posts of assistants, deputies and joint director generals. In CWG, there are no foot soldiers.

No one knows how many contracts have gone to the friends and family members of these joint director generals as benami transactions. The fact remains that both the Central Bureau of Investigation and Central Vigilance Commission are probing irregularities and allegations of corruption in a majority of Games projects. A blame game is going on to affix responsibility for the mess. There is an old saying that too many cooks spoil the broth and this is exactly what happened as regards preparations for this event. Seven years were available to the Government of India (Ministry of Sports/Sports Authority of India), Delhi Government, Organising Committee and other agencies for the preparations of the Games. Today every institution is bent on passing the buck.

A Group of Ministers headed by Union Minister for Urban Development S Jaipal Reddy was constituted five years ago. Mr Reddy was made chairman of the GoM as the Central Public Works Department, which is executing most of the Games and Games-related infrastructure projects, falls under the Ministry of Urban Development. This GoM was additionally supposed to monitor other preparations for the Games. What it actually accomplished during the last five years is a mystery.

The CWG Organising Committee has an executive board at the top of its hierarchy headed by Mr Suresh Kalmadi. The Secretary (Sports), a financial advisor from the Sports Ministry and one officer each from Union Ministry of Urban Development and the Delhi Government are on this board. Yet it appears that this same Organising Committee once again took the words Games Village too seriously and the venue was left spectacularly filthy, with clogged drains and no running water for inspection by the arriving team managers. Both New Zealand and Scotland criticised the “filthy living conditions” at the Commonwealth Games Village that, according to them, was “unsafe and unfit for human habitation”. But instead of admitting the gravity of the situation, one of the Organising Committee officials mentioned that the standards of hygiene are different in different countries, providing fodder for jokes around the world. Perhaps, their personal standards of hygiene are different from that of others, but most middle class Indians like to have clean toilets, no mongrels from the streets frolicking on their beds and the walls of their homes spared by those wont to use them as open air public urinals.

The sad truth is that the so-called Commonwealth Games have now become a millstone around India’s neck and the stench of corruption and incompetence is slowly getting unbearable. Was there any need to bribe other nations to vote for India hosting the Games? Each voting country was given a gift of $ 1,00,000 to win the bid to host the Games. Where did this money come from and who permitted this expenditure? So many skeletons have tumbled out of the proverbial Games cupboard that even the Government has said that action or inquiries, if any, into the allegations would be initiated only after the event is over. Any action at this stage would hamper the smooth conduct of the Games. Thus we have created a Catch-22 for ourselves. Due to the system’s inherent malaise, crime and punishment do not go together.

The Commonwealth Games have not served any purpose of the common man. Winning a few medals here and there does not solve the country’s problems of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, terrorism and corruption. We could have used this opportunity to take a lesson in fighting corruption by punishing the guilty and making an example of them. As for the Games, since its preparations have been shoddy and incomplete, isn’t it better to have postponed them or not had them at all, just so we could ensure that the lesson has finally been learnt?