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Why Sheila Dikshit was 'saddened' by CWG probe

February 17, 2018 10:30 IST

'An event that should have made India proud was being perceived entirely as a money-making enterprise, resting on malpractices and without any benefits whatsoever for the Capital and its people.'
An exclusive excerpt from Sheila Dikshit's memoir Citizen Delhi: My Times, My Life
.


IMAGE: Then Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, 2010 Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell, then Congress MP and Union minister Praneet Kaur and Suresh Kalmadi, then president of the Indian Olympic Association, with the Queen's Baton during the XIX Commonwealth Games Queen's Baton Relay at the Wagah border in 2010. Photograph: Munish Sharma/Reuters

We (had) started the third term (of our government) on a high note.

Our biggest priority in the first twenty months was to see that all the projects underway for the Commonwealth Games of October 2010 were completed in time.

Even as there continued to be debates about the benefits that hosting international sports events can bring for the host nation, my point was simple -- in 2003, the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government had won its bid to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games, so there was no going back now.

 

Moreover... our pride in our city demanded that the preparations be finished well in time.

Besides, it has been seen that mega events in India make possible changes of a magnitude that would take a long time coming otherwise.

The Delhi government had been entrusted with specific responsibilities pertaining to the CWG.

The bulk of the responsibilities lay with the Government of India and bodies such as the Commonwealth Games Federation, Indian Olympic Association and the CWG Organising Committee.

The Delhi government needed to know how many countries were participating, how many events there were, which sporting venues would be used for the Games and which ones for training, and which hotels would be earmarked for visiting delegates.

These details would determine the areas that required road-widening, over-passes and underpasses, and streetscaping. This important information was made available to the Delhi government only by late 2009, leaving so many things to the eleventh hour.

My anxiety was on the rise. I felt a sense of ownership about all the projects whether they were our direct responsibility or not.

Knowing that people saw me as the face of Delhi and would ultimately associate any misstep anywhere with our government, I decided to contribute any which way I could.

In part, the delays were due to the lack of a clear chain of command.

I had seen the work that had gone into the preparations for the Asian Games of 1982, which triggered the first real transformation of Delhi.

At that time the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) was clearly in charge.

This time it was different. There was no unified command overseeing the entire effort or even in the know of the larger picture and details at the same time.

Union Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar had made it clear that he was in principle opposed to such mammoth events and so was a reluctant participant.

The PMO too held back.

As a general indifference marked the preparations, the Games started seeming a bit orphaned.

As luck would have it, Delhi received the highest recorded rainfall in 32 years, over 770 mm, in 2010, which affected the pace of work.

At the time when the Games Village was coming up, I received a visit from a swami from the Akshardham temple nearby.

The height of the Games Village towers would mar the majestic look of the temple, he said. He also wanted the Village to only serve pure vegetarian food.

We had to agree to build a separate drain located at a distance from the temple to carry the refuse from the Village!

All these activities were happening against the backdrop of high-pitched media reports on delays, contrasting the state of affairs with the clockwork precision that had informed China's preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

With barely weeks to go before the event, a media storm broke out with news of the terrible condition of the Games Village. The local and international press did not mince any words.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell said the Games were 'seriously compromised'.

The first foreign delegations that had arrived had reportedly described the premises as uninhabitable and checked into a city hotel.

At that juncture, the PMO urgently requested our government to step in and take charge of the situation. This meant a comprehensive cleaning up of 34 towers.

There were times when I hitched up my sari and picked up a broom; I could not help it.

Further, stepping into areas that were not part of our state government's domain, I requested my cabinet ministers to oversee the state of preparedness of the infrastructure.

Finally, on October 3, 2010, India, and Delhi, rose to the occasion with an opening ceremony that was witnessed by a 60,000 strong audience and three billion television viewers across the world.

Days after the event, even as the Indian and foreign media praised the Games, the PMO constituted the Shunglu Committee to examine and investigate the alleged irregularities of the CWG.

I was saddened by the abruptness of the step.

An event that ultimately had had so many proud moments had become a contentious issue through and through.

Yes, it was imperative to find out if any irregularities had been committed, but before that it was only proper to acknowledge the hard work put in by an army of honest and sincere volunteers, staff and officials, who saw to it that the Games went off without a hitch.

In 1982, following the Asiad, then prime minister Indira Gandhi momentarily put aside the errors, faults and delays to acknowledge those who had managed the event.

This did not happen in 2010. As for the press, it had got the story it wanted.

There were a series of comments from the Shunglu Committee.

A paragraph by paragraph response was given by our government...

An event that should have made India proud was being perceived entirely as a money-making enterprise, resting on malpractices and without any benefits whatsoever for the Capital and its people.

The many flyovers, underpasses, over-bridges, improved pavements, greater thrust on the expansion of the metro or even the delivery of T3 (Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport) in time for the Games by various actors were all but ignored and forgotten.

Excerpted from Citizen Delhi: My Times, My Life by Sheila Dikshit, Bloomsbury Publishing India. Excerpted with the author's kind permission.

Sheila Dikshit