I am sitting across the desk from Shiela Dikshit in a room that is alive with irony. We are talking about the Commonwealth Games to be held in
The clock’s ticking away and there is little progress to show on the ground. Yet the Chief Minister is cheerful and upbeat, pointing out that construction technology now allows mega-projects to be completed within months. The Commonwealth (CW) Games are her show, her grand vision to make Delhi a ‘world-class city’, words that have been repeated so often that they have become Harry Potter-esque incantations, charms endowed with magical powers. Say ‘world-class’ and you conjure up a gleaming cityscape of skyscrapers, fast-flowing traffic, and neon-lit branded shops and restaurants, with unlimited power and water. The Games offer an opportunity to fast forward into this future.
The Games also offer an opportunity for urban renewal and development. When
So I embarked on a self-guided Dilli darshan, to see for myself how this mega-event would transform the city’s landscape and our lives. I went armed with facts and figures culled from
I began at the Indira Gandhi (IG) stadium on Ring Road, close by the Delhi Secretariat. This, together with the Jawaharlal Nehru (JN) Stadium, was the showpiece of Asiad’82. The mammoth indoor stadium, its retractable roof hailed as a triumph of technology, is now decrepit, its roof frozen with rust. Apart from the occasional Bollywood Nite and badminton tournament, nothing happens here. The morose chaukidar I met said, ‘madam, chhat se pani leak hota hai’. Situated on the subsidence-prone Yamuna bank, the stadium is actually tilting to one side, a bit like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. All this is quite amusing but for the fact that crores of rupees – your money and mine – went to pay for this white elephant. The JN stadium has also remained under-used for the last 25 years. When was the last time you went to watch something there? Probably never. But, you will be happy to learn that another 1250 crores of our money will now be spent to renovate these and other existing venues. And then, after a couple of weeks of use in October 2010, they will again relapse into comatose concreteness.
If this has been the sorry fate of our last big building spree, why are we building four new air-conditioned stadiums? Why are we spending more crores on buildings that are destined to be dinosaurs from the day they are conceived? Is this the best way to use public money? Or is this the best way to line builders’ pockets? A spanking new stadium at the IG complex; another one in the Yamuna Sports Complex near Anand Vihar; one more at the Tyagaraj Complex near INA Market; and another one at Siri Fort. Each one of these will swallow up precious open space and saddle us with a bigger tax burden. Another stadium will be built at the JN stadium venue but, mercifully, it will be a less expensive open-air one. According to the Delhi Games website, this one will ‘provide a lasting legacy for the sport of Lawn Bowls’. Yeah, that’s what this city really needs, Lawn Bowls.
Back in the 1980s, large chunks of the Siri Fort forest were cleared to construct the
DDA’s reluctance to acquire land from another government agency is reportedly behind its decision to not use the
So we have the disastrous decision to locate the
Wait a minute, you say, hotels and malls? What’s that got to do with the Games? Everything, it seems. The Games are meant to boost growth and tourism, you see. They’re only a means to leverage funds for the bigger business of making the economy boom. So there are more than six hotel sites for sale in the Village and Parsvnath Builders has already strung up bunting that flutters in the wind, announcing its new mall next to Akshardham. Malls are right up there in the government’s list of what
This is what I don’t get. First they take a stupid decision like locating the
Up the river at Wazirabad, there’s another colossus coming up: the
Meanwhile, an earlier bridge built by Feroze Shah Tughlaq that was used for six centuries and the tomb of Shah Alam, a Tughlaq-era saint, are at risk from the Wazirabad construction. Erased from the landscape, their traces will linger only in the meticulous archives of INTACH.
So much waste. Rs 40 crores spent in
Sorry to break up the party, folks, but we’re still a poor country and
National prestige means that we are supposed to support the Games, wave our flag and feel proud. But prestige at what price? I am proud of
Projects and tasks
(in crores of rupees)
Renovating existing venues
Flyovers, underpasses etc.
Four new stadiums
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Bhalaswa tourist park
Organizing Committee’s expenses
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