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27 September, 2010

For India no more Business as Usual


India ‘s reputation has suffered a major setback as it prepares for the upcoming Commonwealth Games (CWG) in New Delhi. Allegations of corruption are for now kept on the back burner. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and England have threatened to pull out of the games for lack of adequate sanitary conditions at the athletes village. Only after intense pressure from major participating countries, did the Governement go into frenetic action to salvage further damage to its reputation.

India was awarded the rights to host the CWG seven years ago. The total cost is now estimated to run over $ 6 billion. Some Indians saw a golden opportunity to make a fast buck. Allegations of corruption first appeared in the press about 2 months ago. To save face the Government decided to look into allegations after completion of the games. Will the government be impartial in conducting the enquiry? A parliamentary committee of political parties should go into all aspects of the corruption. The enquiry should be timely and those responsible for blatant corruption should be sent to jail. Will the press pursue the alleged corruption charges with vigor?

The collapse of a foot bridge connecting the parking lot to the Nehru stadium and the damage to the canopy adjoining the stadium have caused injuries to several construction workers and police officers. These two incidents should be seen as symptomatic of what has gone wrong in public sector construction. In its eagerness to make a tidy profit, construction companies cut corners. Behind such shoddy work is rampant corruption that prevails in the industry. Organizers perhaps get 10% of the cut for turning a blind eye. Will criminal charges be brought against the construction company for causing serious injury to the people and giving a bad name to the country? Now why should construction companies employ child labor? Why did Organizing Committeee Chairman, Suresh Kalmadi remain silent when such practices were taking place? Westen countries see child labor with disdain.

Indian authorities had seven years to prepare for the games. When India was awarded the games for 2010, some Indians had warned that the country was not ready to host such a major event. The Government has to take full responsibily for the inordinate delay in completing the infrastructure. If the Prime Minister had chaired a committee to assess the progress of the construction and met every three months things would have been different. Certainly there was a steady lack of Central government leadership even as the Government poured in billions of dollars.

A major issue that upset many participating countries was the lack of proper hygiene in the athletes village. Westerners generally see Indian cities as filty and lacking in basic amenities. These games would have been a golden opportunity for the government to win the hearts and minds of the athletes and the fans from different countries. Basic hygiene is something that the Indians don’t like to talk about. Politicians rarely mention hygiene and population control. Perhaps this a time for Indians to take a pledge to keep their cities, towns and villages clean. This effort should start at the primary school. For this effort to succeed the elected politicians from the Panchayat to Parliament should take the lead.

When fear grips people, reasoning power vanishes rapidly. Fear of a terror attack, fear of dengue fever and fear of substandard living conditions at the Games village quickly spread throughout world like a wild fire. In a country where threat perception remains high, is it prudent to spend large amount of money on security? Many top athletes from different countries have backed out at the last minute for the reasons mentioned above.

When it comes to competitive sporting events India has been a laggard. India needs to invest heavily to detect and groom sport talents. While China has made remarkable progress in all fields, India’s development has been scrappy. China has shown the world that they can build world class roads, bridges, and trains. Chinese oversaw the best summer Olympics ever held. Will India ever be ready for the Olympics in our lifetime?

Girish Bhaskar writes for Bhaskar News Service

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