One of the earlier controversies were the 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG), held in Delhi. The games were mired in several controversies:
Almost 4,00,000 people from three large slum clusters in Delhi were relocated. In response to a RTI application filed by civil society groups, a report by NGO Housing & Land Rights Network stated that no tolerance zones for beggars were enforced in Delhi, and the city had arbitrarily arrested homeless citizens under the “Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959.
Many accused the organisers, the UPA-2 government in general and the CWG Organising Committee (CWGOC) Chairman Suresh Kalmadi in particular, of enormous systematic violations of labour laws at construction sites.
There were alleged violations of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948; Interstate Migrant Workmen Act, 1979, and the constitutionally enshrined fundamental rights as per the 1982 SC judgement on workers at the 1982 ASIAD Games, also held in Delhi.
There were documented instances of the presence of thousands of young children at hazardous construction sites, due to a lack of child care facilities for women workers living and working in the labour camp style work sites. CNN broadcasted evidence showing children, as young as seven, being used in the construction of most CWG venues.
During construction of the CWG Games Village, there were several controversies over financial mismanagement, profiteering by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) under Delhi’s then CM Sheila Dixit (who reported directly to Sonia), as well as by private real estate companies.
One of the main real estate companies involved was Emaar-MGF, a company which has been allegedly involved in several of India’s largest scams; the most prominent one being the ₹12,000 crores land scam in 2005-2010, involving a project named Emaar Hills in Hyderabad, in collusion with Congress politicians and state bureaucrats; as well as the famous AgustaWestland chopper scam, amongst others. MGF’s Shravan Gupta is allegedly “close” to Kanishka Singh, a key insider in Pappu’s coterie. I have had the displeasure of having met with Shravan for a potential business deal, but somehow I have a sixth sense to spot future trouble, and must thank the almighty for that.
There were charges of sex slavery and a prostitution boom, with victims in the thousands. Many brothels were running English language courses for sex workers and even upgrading their facilities in anticipation of a business upturn during CWG. One NGO had claimed that 40,000 women were brought in from the North-eastern region alone. Over 3000 bar girls in Mumbai stopped going to work, as they went to Delhi for the CWG.
In July 2010, Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) released a report showing irregularities in 14 CWG projects. The detailed preliminary findings included the award of work contracts at higher prices, poor quality assurance and management, and work contracts awarded to ineligible agencies.
CWGOC treasurer Anil Khanna resigned from the post in the wake of allegations that his son’s firm had secured a contract for laying synthetic Tennis courts.
The Telegraph of London had an article by Jaquelin Maglay: “So what has the New Delhi CWG produced so far? A reinforcement of every negative stereotype of India. The phrase “high-risk” has been firmly slapped on all aspects of the Games, and athletes around the world are reconsidering their options. Do I sit in a bus aisle covered in uncomfortably long clothing to avoid drive-by terrorists and dengue fever-riddled mosquitos or train in comfort for the London Olympics? Increasingly the best athletes are staying at home. The Indian government wanted to use CWG as a stepping stone to an ambitious bid for the 2020 Olympics. That surely, is now lying in a tangled mess along with the pedestrian bridge that collapsed yesterday. Local officials are disingenuous about the state of CWG preparations, adding to the worldwide consternation. Let’s tick off incidents in the past few days, discounting but not forgetting the deaths of nearly 50 construction workers in past two years while employed on CWG projects. TERRORISM? A busload of Taiwanese tourists were shot at, and two injured, outside the Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi. Police initially claimed it was an isolated incident, until the Indian Mujahiddeen claimed responsibility in a chilling statement which read: “As we bleed, you will bleed, we know the preparations for CWG are at their peak.” COST OVERRUNS? The CWG budget is believed to be rapidly approaching £2.6 billion — £1 billion more than the original estimate. CORRUPTION? Organisers have accused highly respected international sporting companies of internal failings and taking kickbacks, which has raised eyebrows at the highest levels of world sport. Dodgy and unskilled construction? India’s own CVC revealed fake completion certificates had been granted to CWG sites. Which brings us to the ATHLETES’ VILLAGE, the jewel in the construction crown. The fact that this showpiece development has dissolved into a leaky, smelly, dangerous mud heap at the first sign of monsoon rains is testament to its rushed construction and organisational chaos. The portents for other CWG venues when they too are put under operational pressure is not good. Parts of the athletics track collapsed a month ago. If we get to the closing ceremony without a CWG related death everyone will breathe a sigh of relief.”
₹130 toilet paper was bought at ₹5200 per roll (₹150 per shit based on my personal consumption pattern), ₹130 soap dispensers at ₹3900 each, altitude training simulator costing ₹7.7 Lakhs each were purchased for ₹1.62 crores each (definitely very high altitude, isn’t it?)
About 10,000 of the 22,000 people who had volunteered to work for CWG, quit less than a week before the games started, due to lack of training or due to dissatisfaction with assignments. Many never returned their uniforms.
Geeta Pandey wrote for BBC on September 3, 2010: “By staging CWG successfully in its capital, India wanted to announce to the world that it was an emerging superpower. But the run-up to CWG has been a huge PR disaster. Delhi was to be “world-class” by 2010. CWG starts in just over a month and the city is nowhere near ready.” Great publicity, right?
The start of CWG saw poor ticket sales. In a press conference, Kalmadi admitted there were problems, but blamed empty venues on ticket booths not being set up outside stadiums.
At the opening ceremony, Kalmadi was booed by spectators. He made BREAKING NEWS worldwide by thanking Princess Diana (who had died more than three years earlier) for attending the CWG opening ceremony. Kalmadi said at a press conference “Yes, Princess Diana was there,” after which he immediately corrected himself by saying “Prince Charles was there with (Camilla), the Duchess of Cornwall.”
On the second day of CWG, <100 people filled the 19,000-seat Hockey stadium. <20 people watched the first tennis match. An Indian player tried to buy tickets for his relatives online, only to be informed by the website that tickets were sold out. When he reached to play, he found the venue to be empty.
Australia’s chef de mission complained about Aussies being stuck in a tunnel with temperature over 40°C due to a lack of air-conditioning and ventilation.
The Delhi Airport Metro Express (which was supposed to be built by Anil Ambani’s Reliance Infrastructure & CAF Beasain of Spain) missed its deadline of July 2010, but was fined a measly ₹11.25 crores.
Less than two weeks before CWG’s opening, Commonwealth Games Chief Mike Fennell wrote to India’s Cabinet Secretary urging action in response to the games village being “seriously compromised.” New Zealand, Canada, Scotland and Ireland expressed concern about unliveable conditions. The Scots shared a photo of a dog defecating on a bed. BBC released images of bathrooms with “paan stains” on the walls and floor, but then India me yeh to chalta hai.
On the first night of Swimming competitions, debris landed in the pool, causing delays ahead of a race. Part of the ceiling had fallen off. Before the last night of Swimming finals, the filtration system broke down, making the pool turbid and murky during the warmup session and the finals.
The ground at the athletics arena was damaged during the opening ceremony; the grass infield & track were being re-laid two hours before athletics started. On September 21, a footbridge under construction near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium collapsed, injuring 23 people. CM Dikshit controversially remarked that the footbridge was only meant for spectators, not for athletes.
On September 22, part of the ceiling of CWG’s weightlifting venue collapsed. Indian bantam weight boxer Akhil Kumar’s bed in the Games village collapsed when he sat on it. On September 26, zoo authorities were called to evacuate a cobra from the tennis stadium. A day later, a South African athlete reported that a snake was in his room. On October 7, a large scoreboard crashed to the ground at the rugby venue.
The day after conclusion of CWG, due to huge media and citizen pressure, the government formed a special committee to probe the allegations of corruption and mismanagement against the CWGOC headed by Kalmadi. The committee was headed by former Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) VK Shunglu, and was over & above the ITD, CBI and CVC investigations already underway. MMS had promised that corrupt officials will be given “severe and exemplary” punishment after the games.
On April 25, 2011, CBI arrested Kalmadi in the Timing-Scoring-Result (TSR) case, naming him as the main accused in awarding the TSR system contract to a firm from Switzerland. In addition to Kalmadi, CBI named two companies and eight persons including CWGOC former Secretary General Lalit Bhanot and former Director General VK Verma as accused, charged of dealing with criminal conspiracy, forging documents and using fake documents under Prevention of Corruption Act (POCA). Kalmadi’s membership of Congress was suspended. On April 26, he was sacked from the post of president of Indian Olympic Association.
As per the CBI charge-sheet, CWGOC awarded the TSR contract to the Swiss firm at an excessive cost, causing a loss of ₹96 crores to our exchequer. Officials of CWGOC conspired to award the contract at an excessive net cost of ₹158 crores, compared to a ₹62 crores competitive bid of a Spanish company.
On July 25, 2012, Kalmadi was restrained by Delhi HC from attending the London Olympics opening ceremony. On February 4, 2013, a CBI court found sufficient evidence & ordered framing of charges for cheating, forgery, criminal conspiracy & causing loss under POCA. Kalmadi was in jail for 10 months.
At a Coffee Shop of a famous Delhi 5-star Hotel, four youngsters spat on him and threw unfinished (jhootha) beverages, loudly calling him a corrupt man and embarrassing him in front of dozens of people present there.
Most people think of it as a financial scam, as that’s most written about. The fact is, apart from being a huge financial scam – it dented the image of India across the world, especially as foreign media always look for opportunities like this to beat down any non-western country.
India had organized the 1982 ASIAD without much controversy. It was during the Indira government, which was far more capable than UPA governments controlled by Sonia, whose only claim to fame was marrying the son of our then PM. How else would we have such disasters 28 years later?
This year, we had 10 heads of state (or government) ASEAN countries as joint “Chief Guests” at our Republic Day Parade – a first for any nation globally. Did anyone notice any glitches? Was there any negative international media coverage? Any scam?
Zero doubt in my mind that UPA-2 (UPA-1 to a lesser extent) was the worst period in our nation’s history, barring Congress-propped governments of Charan Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Gowda & Gujral, though all were short-lived.