'Corruption Wealth Games' Scoreboard: Still Counting...
Tapas Ranjan Saha
The Games are proving to be just as spectacular and grand as promised, with all spectators overwhelmed and breathless at the sheer scale and scope of corruption.
Referee's Whistle Silenced
The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) in a preliminary investigation of Commonwealth Games works has found evidence of pervasive corruption in 16 CWG-related construction works: work was awarded at higher rates and to ineligible agencies, bids have been tampered with, there have been irregularities in issuing of tenders, and needless ‘upgradation’ of infrastructure like street lights. Virtually all government organisations involved in executing these works --- the PWD, MCD, DDA, NDMC, CPWD and RITES --- stand implicated in this mess.
According to the report, "Almost all the organisations executing works for Commonwealth Games have considered inadmissible factors to jack-up the reasonable price to justify award of work at quoted rates citing urgent or emergent circumstances."
It emerges that the Governments at Delhi and the Centre, including the Prime Minister himself, were aware of the CVC's findings long before these became public knowledge. Early this year, the PMO signalled the CVC to keep the lid on these revelations and not to play spoil-sport by exposing the corruption in Games works.
As the Corruption Wealth Games unfolds, let us take a look at the scorecard till now in some of the most popular sports.
We were told that thanks to CWG Delhi would have the best sports facilities in the world – but that claim seems to have been washed away in the monsoon showers.
On the very day that the S.P. Mukherjee Swimming Complex was inaugurated, a swimmer was hurt when a drain-cover came loose. The pool's flooring and wall plaster is wearing off too.
At the shooting range in Kadarpur, Gurgaon, several embankments collapsed in the rains, and the windows are leaking.
At the Talkatora Stadium, there is severe seepage in the basement
The roof of the Yamuna Sports Complex blew off in a storm
A portion of the roof of the newly-remodelled Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium complex collapsed on the very day that Games officials were briefing the media about its inauguration.
Why are multi-crore constructions leaking and collapsing like the slum hutments that some of them have replaced? Union Sports Minister M S Gill breezily tells us this is "normal" in the "continuous rains." What about the substandard quality concrete used in the stadia, creating the possibility of injuries, and the electrical fittings that have not been tested? What of the synthetic surfaces in tennis courts by Australian company Rebound Ace – which tennis players have slammed for its tendency to cause injuries? (Well, what with the multiple risks of injuries, perhaps the players can imagine they are competing in a 'Khatron Ka Khiladi' ('Fear Factor') event!) It emerges that the Indian CEO of Rebound Ace is the son of Anil Khanna, the CWG OC treasurer who has since been ‘forced’ to resign. The contract was given to the company in spite of the well known fact that even the Australian Open had earlier been forced to change the Rebound Ace surface thanks to complaints.
Some 500 items – ranging from computers to disposable toiletries to dustbins to treadmills - have been procured on rent (often from foreign companies) at rates almost ten times what it would cost to buy them outright – and the entire cost of such overlays amounts to Rs. 650 crore. Chairs are hired at Rs. 8,378 each and 100-litre refrigerators at Rs. 42,202 each, while treadmills that can be bought in Delhi at Rs. 4 lakh each is being hired at Rs. 9.75 lakh each.
'Consultation' and 'Sponsorship' - Grand Scam
The CWG was touted as a huge source of revenue from sponsorship and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) hired Australian firm SMAM to find private and multi-national sponsors for the Games. SMAM did not get any significant private international sponsor (though some major advertisers have struck deals directly with the Games OC) – and yet demanded 23 percent commission even on the PSUs which are the main sponsors for the Games – Indian Railways, NTPC, Air India etc! When this came to light, OC Chairman Kalmadi terminated the contract with SMAM. SMAM and Swiss-based Event Knowledge Services (EKS) are now being investigated on charges that they were paid roughly Rs. 50 crore for services that they failed to fulfil.
Did we need to shell out astronomical sums to hire a middleman in the name of procuring sponsors, when our own PSUs are ending up funding the Games anyway? Isn't the PSU 'sponsorship' a hidden 'bailout' for the Games, once again from public exchequer? NTPC and Railways, embarrassed by the expose of corruption, have ‘threatened to withdraw’ sponsorship.
The CAG report also found that 'Fast Track Sales' was hired as a consultant for international broadcasting rights without any detailed technical evaluation of bidders – only on the 'recommendations' of Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennel, CEO Mike Hooper and Kalmadi. As a result, says the CAG, a projected revenue loss of Rs.24.6 crore (Rs. 5.20 crore on account of hiked commission and Rs. 19 crore due to deficiencies in the services of the consultant) has been incurred.
Formula One: Match Fixing For Cronies
The OC Chairman Kalmadi invariably imposed a conditionality in each tender to ensure that no Indian company could compete: that bidders should have “relevant experience of working with sports events.” As a result, it was ensured that everything from furniture to toilet paper is procured from ‘foreign’ suppliers! Does this mean the services and items will be of a superior quality? Far from it; the foreign firms for whom Kalmadi tweaked the rules of the game each have an Indian partner, and it is suspected that the products will eventually be supplied from India though palmed off by the foreign company as its own.
The catering chaos is another example of Kalmadi's formula. According to a leading newspaper expose, last year, the OC called for caterers at 19 Games venues, and as usual, said that bidding companies must have experience of catering for Olympic or Asian Games. No Indian firms could meet this criterion, and an Australian company, Delaware and Taj STATS consortium bagged the contract for one venue – the Games Village. Inexplicably, the OC terminated the contract and reissued the tender. Again, Delaware was the only company that met the terms and conditions and so got the contract – but this time it doubled its rates, taking advantage of the ‘dearth’ of competitors. After the OC eventually announced the other catering firms, it cancelled all contracts because after paying Rs. 100 crore to Delaware and Taj STATS consortium (when the original budget for catering was Rs. 116 crore in all) there was not enough left to meet the expenditure.
The case of the Queen’s Baton Relay is even more bizarre. In the first place, the company – Maxxam International – that quoted the highest price (Rs 8.01 crore in contrast to the Rs. 1.19 crore and Rs 1.85 crore quoted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Brilliant Entertainment Networks respectively) was hired as a consultant for the Queen Baton’s Relay.
Then comes the fact that the OC paid out nearly 2.5 lakh pounds to two UK-based firms - AM Films and AM Cars, both owned by one Ashish Patel - without a contract in place and without following any tender process, for services like providing transport, video screens and mobile toilets during the Queen’s Baton Rally in London. In addition to that money, 25,000 pounds were being transferred into AM Films account every month resulting in about a transfer of some 4, 50,000 pounds to London so far. Kalmadi produced an email purportedly proving that the firm was recommended by the Indian High Commission – but the mail was proved later to be doctored. Another email surfaced later showing that a member of the Organising Committee, Sanjay Mohindroo, had asked Ashish Patel to quote highly inflated prices for taxis. Patel is known to have a tendency to set up businesses, then change their address and management and shut them down. When AM Cars, the firm with which the OC had originally dealt, went out of business, the dealings shifted to AM Films – all this without any paperwork. Kalmadi now blames the lack of paperwork on the fact that transport and other services had to be provided at the last-minute for the Queen’s Baton event.
Kalmadi’s circle of cronies embrace even those in the BJP camp. According to another expose, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting floated tenders for construction of broadcast compounds in stadia – a project that should cost around Rs 50 crore. Kalmadi’s OC pushed for the contract to be given to Deepali Ten House, owned by a nephew of BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal. The Ministry shortlisted three companies including Deepali, but Deepali’s rates were so inflated that the Ministry opted out. To evade pressure from the OC, the Ministry avoided giving the contract to any of the three companies and instead gave it to a PSU. To ‘compensate’ Deepali for this, Kalmadi handed it an Rs 230 crore contract from the OC for supplying, testing, maintenance and removal etc of CWG overlay infrastructure.
Who Foots the Bill?
Official estimates admit that the Budget for the CWG has gone up by 525% - while unofficial estimates based on closer anlysis of several budgetary statements of the Central and Delhi government departments put this figure at a whopping 1575%. The extravaganza includes heads like a helium balloon worth Rs 40 crore and Rs 45 crore spent on 'study tours' by 200 politicians and officials to Melbourne, Beijing and London (after which they did not however submit any report to improve the CWG).
Like Brecht’s ‘worker who reads’, we too are moved to ask, “Who paid the bill?” Among those who foot the physical and financial bill are among the most vulnerable Indian citizens – migrant workers. According to a recent sample by British paper The Independent, the workers labouring 12 hours a day, 7 days a week to meet the Games deadlines, are paid a mere Rs. 3000 per month (far below even the legal minimum wage.) The Housing and Land Rights Network through an RTI found that the Rs. 744.36 crores from funds meant for SCs and STs have been diverted by the Delhi government between 2006-07 and 2010-11. Delhi’s poor – its slum dwellers, street vendors, homeless – have been evicted from the city in vast numbers. Students, evicted from hostels for the Games, have launched a protest in Delhi University, linking their struggle with that of the workers.
It is ironic that the Delhi and Central Governments have tried to muzzle the scam revelations by raising the banner of ‘national pride.’ The CWG has indeed come to symbolise what is the reality of the ruling class’ ‘national pride’ – a colonial hangover, corruption and loot of public funds to fill private coffers and pockets, and exploitation.