Delhi loses patience with Commonwealth Games

Sanjoy Majumder gets a first hand look at one of the venues

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It was meant to be Delhi's moment of glory.

By staging the Commonwealth Games successfully in its capital, India wanted to announce to the world that it was an emerging superpower.

But the run-up to the Games has been a huge public relations disaster.

Delhi was told it would be "world-class" by 2010.

But the Games start in just over a month and the city is nowhere near ready.

Deadlines missed

The Games village where athletes and officials are going to stay still needs lots of work.

Many of the stadiums are still being renovated. At least one - Shivaji Stadium - is no longer a venue because the authorities admitted it would not be ready in time.

Even ticket sales have been delayed.

And the city looks as if it has been bashed up physically - many roads are dug up, others have massive craters and potholes.

Pavements - which were broken up with the promise that new ones would be laid soon - are still unwalkable.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit and Suresh Kalmadi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit (left) is now seeking divine intervention

In many areas, shops, restaurants and businesses complain they are losing out on trade.

And unusually heavy monsoon rains have further delayed the work, adding to the misery.

The deadline for Delhi to be Games-ready was initially 31 March. After several extensions - first to 30 June, then to 31 July, then 31 August - it is now mid-September.

The authorities, however, insist that the Games will be a resounding success and everything will be in place when the curtain goes up on 3 October.

But as deadline after deadline falls by the wayside, people in Delhi seem to be losing patience.

"The Games were awarded in 2003, so work should have been completed by 2008. That would have given them two years to test the facilities," says Delhi-based architect and author Gautam Bhatia.

"Anywhere else, even a delay of a day or two would have been taken seriously, but I'm quite amazed by the casual attitude of the officials here."

Worth it?

A whopping $2.35bn (£1.5bn) is being spent on the Games but the city has been "a dismal showcase" for it, he says.

"The quality of a lot of the work is second-rate. Millions of dollars have been spent on each stadium, but if you look at the quality and the workmanship, you wonder whether it's worth it.

"We have to see the amount we spent and what we got for it," he says.

Games project Many projects are way behind schedule

The answer to that many would say is - not much.

Each day brings with it fresh reports of corruption and problems at newly-renovated stadiums and other sports facilities.

Recent floods at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium damaged parts of the athletics track, sending workers scurrying back in to fix it.

"What are we getting for the cost?" asks Rajesh Kalra, editor-in-chief of the Times of India website.

"Leaking roofs, shoddy finish, already crumbling concrete, faulty drainage, inferior seats and inadequate lighting that needs to be changed to allow for high-definition telecast."

Mr Kalra says the taxpayer is being defrauded in the name of the Games: "What should have cost X is costing 10X, and what should last years will last a fraction."

'National shame'

There appears little popular support for the Games. Some have even called for the event to be abandoned.

"The goal of portraying Delhi as a world-class city and an international sports destination has led the Indian government to lose sight of its priorities and legal and moral commitments to its people," says Miloon Kothari, former UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, who heads a group called the Housing and Land Rights Network.

A recent report by his group says the high expenses of the Games are likely to create "a negative financial legacy for the country".

The Games budget has risen from an initial projection of $405m to $2.35bn today. Experts say when the final expenses on infrastructure, security and other projects are tallied it will be much more, perhaps as high as $15bn.

Miloon Kothari Mr Kothari wants the Games to be called off

Mr Kothari questions the rationale behind spending so much money on a one-off sporting event.

"When one in three Indians lives below the poverty line and 40% of the hungry live in India, when 46% of India's children and 55% of women are malnourished, does spending billions of dollars on a 12-day sports event build national pride or is it a matter of national shame?" he asks.

The Games were meant to instil a sense of pride in Delhi, but many fed-up citizens are threatening to leave the city or take no part in the event.

Even former sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar says the Games are "evil" and he is "getting the hell out of the country" to avoid them.

College student Aditya Narayan says the event is a "sham" and blames Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit.

"She said it would be the best the world has seen. But she has made a joke of our country."

With time fast running out, Mrs Dixit is seeking divine intervention.

"It appears that Lord Indra [the rain god] is unhappy with us," she said at the weekend.

"I will appeal to him to bring some sunshine. If the rain stops and sun comes out, we will be able to complete the work by 10-15 September. Otherwise we will have to extend the deadline.

"By the grace of god, we will be able to finish everything by 3 October."

If that does not happen, Delhi and India could be facing major embarrassment.

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