Common Sense Vs. the Commonwealth Games.
What you need to know about the massive spending on an 11-day event in New Delhi this year. And why this money is going to go down the drain – but only after it has passed through the pockets of politicians and bureaucrats.
For anyone who has an interest in governance, the much-hyped Commonwealth Games 2010 due to be held in Delhi in October would serve as a first rate example of how near-view politics and internecine corruption can compromise the highest levels of thinking of government to the detriment of citizenry.
Let me posit my view against the most powerful argument in favour of the games: that it is a matter of national pride that Delhi has been chosen as the venue. That statement is fundamentally incorrect. Delhi was not chosen, but used every trick in the book to secure the games, including back channel diplomacy for whatever it was worth. That it self condemns the games, not as something the world has bestowed on us, but as an event that has befallen us for our own want.
So why did we want the games in the first place? There can be only two good reasons: one, that there would be enormous advantages coming our way as a state and a city once we secured the games, or two, that it would give us a chance to showcase our progress as a city and a nation, perhaps, and help us secure tangible benefits in finance, business, culture or a slice of diplomatic shine.
On all counts, the arguments are fictitious. First, the games do not make money. There is no financial advantage in hosting the games, they are a loss making enterprise. Second, there is nothing to show for a city which cannot house the majority of its citizens or offer them clean water, hygiene, toilets, education and a decent quality of life. When you start talking about using bamboo curtains to hide the squalor of the city, you know that you have lost that case.
Now, let us attend to the scandalous waste of tax payers’ money. Everyone knows the mess event-based development makes. There is a whole body of information on how many cities are left to clean up the mess – financial, most of all, once the games are over. Montreal is a shining example which has only in 2006 paid off its debts for the Olympic Games it hosted in 1976.
Event based development is anti-people.
The developmental aspects so often touted as the benefits of such events are a chimera. No development expert will agree to event-based development because in all such cases the development is not designed around or aimed at the people, but at the event. In effect you use the people’s money to put it to work on areas which do not enhance the quality of their life, but satisfy a different set of criteria which is established by an international body of sports executives and whose one-point agenda is to hold a well organised event for 11 days, period.
We are a city – and nation – that hosted the Asian games in 1982. The games were touted as a great development pill for Delhi and the development masquerades as building of flyovers, roads, games village, stadia. Here is the test of the case : there have been more rock concerts in the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium than sports events since then. More people have visited Talkotra Stadium for marriage receptions than any sports event. The stadium and hotel complex built at ITO remained unused and finally the Delhi government secretariat moved into the premises. The Games Village on Siri Fort Road was transferred conveniently to highly placed bureaucrats and public sector companies which are basically cash cows of the government. Now we are left with the last credit of the Asiad, the flyovers and roads. Let’s think about that. Flyovers and roads are what need to be built as the city grows anyway, or in spite of sporting events. If this city claims to have built them only for or because of the games, that itself is an insult to administrative efficiency in planning.
Whose games is it anyway?
Having left those arguments there, let us look at the issue of pride of the nation. I have only recently initiated an advocacy campaign to first establish the costs of the CW Games and then look at what the same money could have bought if we used it for social upliftment. It is appalling that at last count Rs 27,000 Crores has been spent on the games and games related developmental projects. Mani Shankar Aiyar, minister of sports in the last UPA government is reported to have said in Parliament that the cost of the project would be in the range of Rs 60,000 crores. Aiyar, to his credit, also lamented the mis-prioritization of funds and was the only member of Government to have spoken out against this massive spend in a non-priority area.
No look at who benefits. According to a table of expenditures developed by my support group*, most of this money will be used up for the improvement and sprucing up of stadia, facilities, training and roads and infrastructure which falls within the perimeter of games venues or en route. The Games Village on the Yamuna river bed, which was touted as a shining example of Public Private Partnership [PPP] was in itself an example of mal-utilisation of public funds – the private company which was supposed to bring in equity cited the real-estate bust and threw up its hands in the air, forcing the Delhi Government to step in with the finances, laying bare the fraud on the exchequer. No prizes for guessing why the Government was interested in bailing out a company which should have technically been black listed: these flats will start at Rs 3 crores each, at market rates.
But more importantly, far from doing anything positive for the people at large, these games will actually contribute to general morbidity. In recent months, at least 100,000 of New Delhi’s 160,000 homeless people have been booted out of night shelters, many of which have been shut down or demolished in a bid to spruce up the city before the Commonwealth Games. Besides shutting down 22 of the city’s 46 night shelters, plans are afoot to raze slums, stamp out hundreds of street food vendors and deport 60,000 destitutes to their home states. Voluntary agencies have documented that as many as 300,000 more people may have been evicted from other parts of the city. Recent reports reveal that 44 slum clusters are being removed from around the roads and stadia where the athletes and the delegates to the games will travel and play. To add insult to injury, Delhi Chief Secretary Rakesh Mehta unapologetically preened that since it is not possible to remove all the slums before the deadline, the government had decided to use bamboo screens to simply conceal the slums from sight.
Legacy of the games: an impoverished city
Contrary to popular belief, the games are not only expensive in themselves, they also leave cities financially unsustainable. They cater to conditions that cause inflationary trends to solidify. In Delhi, for instance, breakneck expansion of the metro network, and the speed to accommodate the deadline have caused property prices to already go up manifold on the Metro routes. Thousands of hutments have been demolished in the name of beautification, but actually the demolitions were used to vacate prime property. It is a recorded fact that event based developments tend to push up property and service rates which refuse to depress once the event is over and add to the inflationary pressures of city living. It has been proved that as a corollary of this a number of city residents are pushed out of the city towards the suburbs as property prices and rentals become out of their reach.
The experience of Sydney after the Olympics is a case study. Thanks to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, the housing sector there saw a sharp escalation in prices. The acceleration of the sprucing up of the city, including renovation and rejuvenation of inner city housing stock, led to house prices more than doubling between 1996 and 2003. Between 1993 (when Sydney was selected as the Host City of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games) and 1998, Sydney’s rents increased by 40 percent, compared with Melbourne, the Australian city with the next biggest increase in rents, which was only 9.6 percent over the same period. A report published in June 1998 found that 160,000 Sydney households faced little choice but to live on the city’s fringe, leave Sydney altogether or pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent closer to the city. Due to this, a “Homelessness Protocol” was introduced to ensure that homeless people were not subject to harassment. Sydney incurred an expense that was twice the original estimate of Rs 10,000 crore ($ 2.5 billion) and is likely to come out of the red only now
No queremos goles, queremos frijoles !
Lessons are being learnt globally. “ No queremos goles, queremos frijoles ” – “We do not want goals, we want beans” was painted on a Mexico stadium during the Football World Cup in 1986. In 2008, Adelaide withdrew its case for hosting Commonwealth 2018 games. State Sport Minister Michael Wright cited budgetary pressures. In his opinion, projects such as Marjorie Jackson-Nelson Hospital, the desalination plant, and transport were more pressing then the games.
Western Australia State Prime minister, Colin Barnett, aborted the development of a Billion Dollar stadium on the site of the current Subiaco Oval. Instead, government would spend $316 million building 1000 new government homes this year, targeting low-income families and government workers such as police, teachers and nurses. Mr. Barnett said projects such as a football stadium could not be justified when compared with services such as a children’s hospital.
One would have imagined that such sentiments were more prominent in a country like ours which has a massive backlog of social commitments. But no, not in our country where such games are a wonderful conduit for chest-thumping and ego-extensions of a few ruling party politicians who are jockeying for prominence in their own parties. Such games are a time tested Public Relations strategy that offers tactical distraction to the citizenry from their real concerns and problems and needs, a talent for which the Chief Minister of Delhi is too well known. Not to mention the manna that follows for all concerned once the Government agrees to such big ticket spending. Corruption is the scent that draws all who support such spending.
Your children will pay for the games.
So where will the money eventually come from? If the experience of other games cited above is any guide, the citizens of the host city and the country pay the price for the next 25 years. Delhi will not be an exception, either. Besides the budgetary provisions, and grants, money is raised through increasing the burden on the people who may not have anything to do with games or anything to gain from them. Any resident of Delhi knows this. The Government has arbitrarily raised transportation costs this year. Bus fares are already up by 100 per cent, Metro fares have been increased, even student passes have not been spared. School fees was hiked across the board while parents are on the streets demanding a roll back. Service charges on utilities have been increased. Electricity rates are scheduled for a dramatic increase once again after Delhi government recently withdrew the subsidy. Delhi’s water tariff has been increased by 57-160% across multiple slabs. Property taxes are next in line as one of the main revenue sources for government, and this hike both reflects and causes, the steadily increasing prices of consumables, with food inflation steadily hitting around 20 per cent. VAT on 250 items has been revised upwards. The recent hike in petrol and diesel does the rest to create a domino effect of the price spiral.
All this, to mop up the Rs 60,000 odd crores this government – at the center and the state – wants to show off to a contingent of sports persons from around the world.
To put this figure into perspective, it would take less than a quarter of it to house all the people eking out a living in the morbid slums of Delhi and give them a quality of life that answers to the term decent.
Our advocacy campaign argues that if a state can muster this amount of money for an 11-day sporting event, surely it will not hesitate in spending at least an equal sum to provide homes, sanitation and education to those citizens whose living conditions they are so ashamed of that they are putting bamboo curtains to hide them.
Isn’t it only fair to expect that ?
*With inputs from the strategy paper on CWGames – United Volunteers Association [UVA]