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The "Heritage" of the Games

by Hazards Centre, 15 October 2010

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Hazards Centre

Press Release

October 15, 2010

The Commonwealth Games has come to a resounding close. What
memories, present conditions, and future possibilities does it leave behind?

In 2007 the Hazards Centre had published “How Much Does National Prestige Cost?”, and found that, in the last 40 years, virtually every city that had hosted such an event had plunged into debt for the next 25 to 30 years. Our analysis of the impact of big sporting events like the Olympics, the World Cups, and even the Commonwealth Games, showed that such Games have little to do with ’sports’ or with ’pride’. They are part of an economic strategy that is promoted to serve big financial interests through a programme of urban renewal along with advertising and marketing revenues. The Games never pay for themselves; it is public money that falls into the hands of private businessmen. Developers, real estate agents, construction companies, and people at the high end of the tourism, advertising, marketing, and hospitality industries rake in profits, while the rest of the citizens bear the debts and the social and environmental
impacts – repression, displacement, workers’ deaths, corruption, and degeneration – for years to come.

When we published “Heritage Games, Cleaning up the Debris” earlier this year we documented that, as of August 10, only 6 projects had been reported to be finished. But the remaining projects were still under construction with the latest deadlines verging to just two weeks before the Games. In addition, the staggering investment in the city in the name of the Games was over Rs 102,000 crores, with Rs 55,398 crores being
directly invested as part of the Games related infrastructure! And we had predicted that the city would eventually have to pay for this investment in one way or another and for many years. In this context we had shown how sections of the city – from students to commuters, labourers, and vendors – had already begun to pay the costs, with the middle classes being faced with prospective rises in prices for land, housing, rents, energy, and transport, and the poor being evicted, displaced, and being divested of all social and economic security.

The Games are now over. Here are some preliminary observations on their ‘heritage’.

There is no doubt whatsoever that if national ‘pride’ has been salvaged by the event it has been because of the hundreds and thousands of workers who toiled till the last minute to get the infrastructure in place, and the athletes who then performed to the best of their ability. They rightfully deserve the nation’s gratitude and applause. At least the athletes won 101 medals and the nation consequently came 2nd. At Rs 550 to 1000 crores per medal, was it a worthwhile investment; and for whom? 38 gold medals, for instance, were shared by 41 sportspersons. Of these 10 are from the armed forces, 5 are in the public services, and 13 are from families who are affluent enough to let their children take up the sport; while 9 come from deprived backgrounds and have had to struggle immensely hard to get to the podium. What has been the investment of the nation and the sports associations and government in these athletes? Particularly within a context where the nation is 134th on the Human Development Index and 67th on the Hunger Index, and anything between 35 to 70% are living below the poverty line.

The stadia are now in place, built and renovated with public money. The Centre has already finalised a plan to offer them on a 10-year agreement to private companies.

These companies will need a minimum of Rs 1,000 crores as their net worth to bid for just Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and Indira Gandhi Sports Complex. For the National Stadium, Swimming Pool Complex, and Shooting Range, the net worth for bidding would be Rs 500 crores. Those involved in the dealings range from Feedback Ventures, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Reliance IMG, Wipro, Coca-Cola, GTL Teleservices, AISA, the Australian Trade Commission, and 21st Century Media and Golf Academy. The company which wins the bid for the highest fee will be allowed branding rights over the stadia, permission to sub-let built up space, use the venue for concerts and running academies, among other things. Even sponsorship rights on events organised by sports federations will be given to the company as part of the deal. Is this how sports going to be promoted in the nation?

The Games Village with 1,100 flats was originally promised to the University after the Games. Delhi Development Authority (DDA) even bailed out the private company Emaar with Rs700 crores in return for 333 flats. But Emaar has reportedly sold (or is selling) each of the flats for anything between Rs2.5 to 6 crores. 2,709 flats were to be built and handed over by DDA in Vasant Kunj by March 2010 but these flats are still not ready for occupation. What will happen to them after construction is not yet known. All the University hostels that were taken over and renovated in Delhi for the Games have barely seen any occupants (9 were reported for the 130 rooms in the Miranda House hostel) while 2,000 students were evicted for the purpose. Now principals of these colleges are concerned about the high maintenance costs of the renovated hostels and
have said that unless the University Grants Commission provides funds for this purpose, they will have to charge students an extra Rs2000 per month. Even the hotels in Karol Bagh and Paharganj have said that bookings were as low as 15 to 20%, while they have spent an extra 50% on security.

The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) acquired 6,500 new low-floor buses for the Games under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and many of them were used to ferry Games athletes and delegates to different venues along dedicated lanes. This was purported to be a move to popularise public transport. However, at the same time, 2,100 private Blueline buses were taken off the roads. Whether the Bluelines will be allowed to return or not probably depends upon the Government’s plan
to divide the DTC operations into 8 clusters and auction them off to private companies, and what potential competition the Bluelines will offer to these big operators. That a fare rise is inevitable is indicated by the fact that the Haryana government has already increased bus fares by 25% and the oil companies are putting pressure to raise diesel and petrol prices also because of the rise in crude oil prices in the international market.
In the meantime Indraprastha Gas Limited has decided to raise the price of CNG gas by between 25 to 40 paise per kg.

How many tourists eventually came for the Games will probably be known only later. But hotel occupancy rates reveal that the number of tourists has definitely decreased – something that was predicted by the Government’s own sponsored studies. This was further complicated by concerns about dengue, malaria, and chicken gunia, and the continuing rains. Even the Games athletes and delegates did not get a chance to visit the city and purchase at local markets because of security concerns and deliberate
market closures. And while the Delhi High Court gave an order that street vendors and hawkers could not be removed, they also became victims of “security”. Ticket availability and sales were another major area of controversy. While reportedly 17 lakh tickets were printed, as late as October 9, almost a week into the Games, only 9 lakh had been sold.
The most popular events were boxing, wrestling, tennis, cycling, and hockey, but even for the other events, tickets were said to be “sold out” at venues, although there were many empty seats in the halls with a reported average occupancy of 30 to 40%. Even for the closing ceremony at the 65,000-capacity Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, only Rs 20,000 denomination tickets were said to be available.

Clearly, therefore, if tourism and ticket sales have not yielded significant revenues, then other sources have to be tapped. The trends in transportation costs and sale or lease of infrastructural facilities to private parties have already been indicated above. Recently, the circle rate for all of Delhi has been hiked by 100% while for Gurgaon it has gone up by only 5 to 20%. In the last 15 months there has been a complementary
increase in property tax in Delhi by 30 to 40%. There is also an average increase by 3 to 4% in office rentals. Land and property are obvious (and policy-driven) sources for cash-strapped Urban Local Bodies. This also explains why slums have to be ruthlessly bulldozed off what is now prime property and changed from residential into commercial use. Associated with the boom in construction has been the rise in steel prices by
between Rs1000 to 1500 per tonne, and cement prices, which had already risen by Rs 20 per 50kg bag, are slated to rise by another Rs15 to 20. Much of this rise will feed into Government and private revenues, which will eventually pay for the Games.

It is not just property costs that are going up. According to a report by Assocham, the prices of milk, cereals, eggs increased by 18% between August 2009 and 2010, while there was an increase of only 10.4% in per person income. There has been a similar hike in the price of sugar by Rs150 per quintal, as also a rise in the price of mill cloth. Between September and October 2010 in Delhi, the prices of vegetables almost
doubled. Even the humble torai went up from Rs12 to Rs40 per kg, while the more exalted cauliflower, ginger, beans, and shimla mirch jumped from Rs60 to Rs100 per kg.

The only thing that has not gone up is the wages of labour. The lovely 2,375 Chanderi stoles that were awarded to the winners, purchased at a cost of Rs50 lakhs (or about Rs2000 per stole), were produced by 100 weavers who were paid a pittance for their work. 500 school bus drivers were selected at no extra charge to drive the 6000 cars required for the Games. And, in spite of the Delhi High Court’s strictures, the Labour
Department of Delhi made little or no effort to register all the workers at various Games venues or to ensure that they were paid minimum wages and provided with basic social security.

Workers who toiled day and night to get the Games infrastructure ready on time have obviously not benefited much from this manufactured outpouring of national pride (that also successfully conceals a lot of venality and profiteering). Others who suffered are the 40,000 beggars who were removed from the streets and their livelihoods. Reportedly

300,000 street vendors and hawkers were prevented from plying their trades, as were cycle riksha pullers and loaders. 44 slums were to be officially demolished before the Games to beautify the venues (and incidentally vacate land for commercial real estate purposes), and a few of them were actually evicted but those that could not be razed in time were barricaded with Games publicity screens to hide them from public view. All those pursuing their livelihoods as domestic maids, construction workers, daily wagers, hawkers, and so on, but who did not have the requisite “identity cards” demanded by the police had to leave the city or remain indoors in fear. Even of the 94 masseurs brought from Kerala for the Games, 37 were left jobless because of lack of accreditation. In this context the official claim of a $4.9 billion impact on GDP and generation of 24.7 lakh jobs lacks all substance.

All the above information has been gleaned from what has appeared in the media. We have not cited here the studies done by concerned civil society groups or even the damning indictments by independent bodies such as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India or the Central Vigilance Commissioner. Many of these concerns need to be investigated further and the findings placed in the public domain. A full enquiry into misdemeanours has been promised by the highest authorities after the Games. We, therefore, seek the media’s help in determining the issues that are of greatest concern to the nation and how they may be pursued in future.

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