SO the Commonwealth Games are over. Both the inaugural and concluding ceremonies were held in great éclat and won the encomia of the media whose role, prior to the holding of the Games, brought disgrace to the country. At some point in time, a study will have to be made on whether the media – especially the electronic media – did the right thing the right way.
It is claimed that the media has the right to expose corruption, but in this particular case, one suspects that it has done as much harm to the country as it did good. Now that the ceremonies are over and done with and we can breathe a sigh of relief, the time has come for a public inquiry into the genesis of the troubles. Charges have been made that India had even gone to the extent of bribing concerned nations to vote for it when the matter for choosing the site for the 19th Commonwealth Games came up for consideration. Besides, an explanation has to be sought why it took India more than five years, between 2003 and 2008 to get started on laying the infrastructure for the Games. Many Ministries and Departments reportedly were involved. Files kept moving from one Department to another and action was withheld for a long time. Who, pray, was responsible for the delay which led to large-scale corruption among officials? Don’t we have the right to know?
Meanwhile another major scandal lies exposed of which Mainstream (September 17-23) took note of, and, one believes, at the right time. It would seem that the South Asian Winter Games were originally to be held in Auli, Uttarakhand, in 2008. They could not be held due to “lack of preparations and irregularities”. Very delicately put. The Union Government had allotted about Rs 200 crore, but, according to Harish Chandola who has done the expose, “preparations are still incomplete”. The Games are now scheduled to be held this ‘winter’ – the date is not specified – and judging from what Chandola has written, one wonders whether they will ever be held. Money was spent lavishly. Par for the course. To lay an international ski-slope, an Austrian expert was hired and the contract for constructing the slope was given to a Kashmir company called Space Age. The company reportedly messed up the work, removing high altitude grass growing on the slope which led to corrosion and other side effects. So far not a word about this has appeared in the media. An Italian firm called Snow Star had been appointed for putting up a snow-making machine and for laying pipes along the slope. The machine was to make artificial snow but it has been apparently found to be a total failure.
What is worse is that some years ago a large and expensive hotel had come up on the very ski-slope (1,100 meteres long and 40 metres wide) that was planned for operation. Chandola writes: “Attempts to remove it to keep the slope clear” have failed and the hotel still stands in the middle of the slope! So, where does one go from here? A ski-lift had to be built and a French firm called Pomagaski had been given the contract to build it. Work on it has not yet started!
Chandola says: “The ski-slope is in ruins, a hotel stands in its midst, the snow-gun is not working and the ski-lift is not in existence”. A Defence Ministry High Altitude Agricultural Establishment in Auli has been given the task of growing grass that is to be laid on the slope to stabilise it and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police’s Winter Warfare School in Auli has been asked to lay it. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives were supposed to participate in the Games, but in view of the floods and fighting in Pakistan and the on-going war in Afghanistan it is not certain that they will send their teams. It will be unnatural to expect them. Neither Bangladesh nor Sri Lanka nor Myanmar had shown interest in the Games, which is perfectly understandable, considering that the people there would never have seen snow.
The question is, says Chandola, how have the Rs 200 crore allotted by the Union and Uttarakhand governments for the Games been spent? What was the procedure for awarding contracts to companies to prepare for the Games and making payments to them before the work was completed and tested? Though the money involved is chicken-feed, compared to what was spent on the Commonwealth Games, the scandal over its utilisation may be bigger. What is interesting is that it should be Mainstream, a high-level left-wing intellectual journal that exposed the scandal. It is now the duty of our dailies and news agencies to pursue it.
Why is it that our Babus are so inefficient? Is there no one to call them to order? They literally get away with murder. In regard to Commonwealth Games, Suresh Kalmadi came in Handy to damn; the manner in which he was rudely treated by cub-reporters in the electronic media calls for an explanation. For all one knows he may be guilty of the charges laid against him but it is a long way between presumption and proof and cub-reporters must know how to behave. Whatever becomes known in the end, one thing the organisers need to be congratulated for: and that is the manner in which both the inauguration and conclusion ceremonies were conducted. Both involved tremendous organisation and this was done in meticulous detail, no matter what went on behind the scene. The conduct of the ceremonies showed that given a chance India can handle any situation with thoroughness.
No doubt the media will say that it has had no other options but to take on people suspected of malpractices but it would do itself a favour by indulging in some quiet self-introspection. It may do it some good. Being over-zealous in doing one’s duty is not necessarily a virtue.