Sellotape Legacy (Delhi and the Commonwealth Games) by Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta is very timely and on the dot. As more and more details of sordid corruption and financial profligacy surface with unfailing regularity, here is an extremely well-researched book on the Commonwealth Games (CWG) by two authors who probably had a bead on all the major players involved.
Long before he became a politician, Suresh Kalmadi was an Air Force pilot. Among his favourite memories was landing planes at Leh, the highest airport in the world, when there were no proper runways. Now we have poorly finished stadiums. Can he deliver? Shekhar Gupta, while interviewing him in October 2009, described him as ‘somebody who will decide whether by 2010 we are a very proud country or a very embarrassed country.’ We are already somewhat red-faced.
Parliamentary records show that at the time of government approval for the Games, the budget estimate had been only Rs.617.50 crore. When the Vajpayee government then agreed to fund any shortfall between revenue and expenditure, it was like proffering a blank signed cheque. By March 2003, when Delhi submitted its official bid, the budget estimate had tripled to Rs.1,895.30 crore. The financing of the GWG has been the subject of parliamentary questioning since 2004. On paper, with the diagrams and graphs, the Games seem to be a most well-organised event. It is only when you look at the performance data submitted by various ministries, that you come face to face with the reality that is India: huge cost overruns, and estimations gone crazily haywire. In early 2009, a senior Delhi government official calmly pointed out – the total games spending on city infrastructure was Rs.65,550 crore. When clubbed with other costs, the total amount could well touch Rs.70,000 crore.
Though this book explores the politics of the Games and the monstrous sums of money being spent, what is now becoming more than evident is that too many have seen this as an opportunity to skim off whatever they could for frivolous reasons at that. The absurd purchase of toilet rolls at Rs.4,000 a piece are a case in (shameless) point.
Just like in the case of the callous MBC and the MMRDA of Mumbai, trees have been major victims in Delhi. The basketball and squash complex at Siri Fort saw hundreds of full grown ancient trees felled in the green area. Another deplorable decision was to set up an underground parking lot, destroying the greenery forever. Thousands of trees have been hacked away and felled – leaving an adverse environmental impact for Delhi’s future generations. Strangely, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said in early 2009, “We are also concerned about the green cover, but as a government we have to move on.” The DDA has gone on record and countered that no rules were broken and 8,000 trees were planted in lieu of the 700 cut down around Siri Fort - sounds similar to the tales spun by our own civic bodies here in Mumbai.
The plight of lakhs of Delhites forcibly resettled from 350 slum clusters for the Games Village remains unaddressed, with just a third of them provided with alternative locations miles away from the city. The ground reality is terribly different, with a mad rush on to ready the infrastructure already delayed for months past deadlines. Corruption, exposed in all its absurdity, is being swept under the carpet of obfuscation and outright denials, and sports, the focal issue of the CWG, has taken a back seat.
Though this book explores the politics of the Games and the monstrous sums of money being spent, what is now becoming more than evident is that too many have seen this as an opportunity to skim off whatever they could…
Sellotape Legacy by Boria Majumdar & Nalin Mehta
Cover scanned: 20Business Sellotape in Business folder