The deadline is just 44 days away and Delhi Chief Secretary Rakesh Mehta is upbeat – at least for the TV cameras.
“We’re 99.5% ready” he says direct to camera, which after all, is not the same as looking someone in the eye. “We just need now to finish the ‘greening’.” The audacity of the lie causes an audible gasp from my neighbour on the right.
In October, more than 10,000 participants alone are expected in Delhi for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and they will need to be housed in a reasonable style. Which explains the rows of cardboard wrapped furniture and plasma screen TVs. The problem is that they’re all being stored on the muddy and monsoon filled construction sites that are supposed to be – at this point in the schedule – finished apartments.
At the moment, Delhi, a city which has more cars than Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai is a Boschian bad dream. A tangle of traffic jams and half constructed walls; a piece of giant flyover stands like a great piece of conceptual art at Ashram – the would be airborne super-highway collapsed months ago, killing several construction workers and apparently it’s under re-construction, but at the moment is just a 20 metre piece of road soaring above the ground traffic. Concrete shells that should be apartments and stadiums are muddy construction sites of rubble and half naked construction workers listlessly dab paint on bridges as if the shiny metallic green will compensate for the fact that the backdrop could be mistaken for Grozny during the height of the war.
Vasant Kunj is a colony that was to house sports officials from around the globe – 3000 flats, more than 7000 rooms. With the most active imagination and the faith of the true believer it would be hard to picture these half broken piles of stones, stairwells leading nowhere, rooms with one or two walls, and leaking ceilings being in any fit shape for human inhabitation anytime soon. Every engineer on the project has officially declared the two month deadline impossible to meet. But what is Delhi to do? I mean it’s the Commonwealth Games 2010 – it’s not like they can just ask for a raincheck.
Insiders say that the corruption has been on a massive a scale and so blatantly shameless that exposes routinely aired on TV have done nothing to change the leadership of the project. Suresh Kalmadi is CEO of the “CON-wealth Games” as they’ve been nicknamed by the media. My well connected source whispers in my ear that he was especially chosen for the job because of his particular talent as a butter maker. He can skim his milk if you catch my meaning.
Two of my insider friends have a bet going – one says that he’s sure that Kalmadi will be jailed before Gandhi’s birthday (October 2nd); the other one says for sure he’s going to be rewarded after its all over – no matter how many complaints come pouring in – because he’s so efficiently bloated the ruling party coffers.
I can’t help give you this one example: when India’s President Pratibha Patil went to London for the baton ceremony for the Games, a fictitious company was put in charge of her official visit. The company had a long list of demands they insisted was essential for the President’s comfort including gym equipment, a personal treadmill, umbrellas, a fleet of cars. Every item had a hugely over-rated price next to it, each more mendacious than the last; my personal favourite is a bill for 4,500 pounds sterling - for toilet paper for her personal use.
The company was later liquidated and leaving a hole of more than 200,000 pounds in the budget here.
As I type this the breaking headlines flash on the telly – Kalmadi’s second in command T.S. Darbari, Joint Director General of the Commonwealth Organizing Committee, and Sajnay Mahendroo, the deputy Director General have just been axed over the “Baton scandal.”
Should the lower echelons of the Games organizers be quaking? Will more lieutenants be falling on their swords, or be offered in ritual sacrifice? How many more heads will roll over Baton ceremonies, fallen flyovers, and leaking stadiums?
I won’t be here for the Games, but I can’t help being curious about who’s going to win the Kalmadi bet.
Indians are a pretty cynical bunch when it comes to corruption of officials, but they also have faith in their own juggard – their uncanny ability to pull things together at the eleventh hour. But I’ve been living in the punctual conscientious Netherlands for long enough now to feel that if I had any kind of responsibility for the administration of this project, I’d be spending a lot of time in the loo these days pulling at some reasonably priced toilet paper – and not because of Delhi belly - but out of sheer fear.