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Race against time

Commonwealth Games can transform Delhi by overhauling it's infrastructure. It can provide better roads, power and water supply. But the city is not making the most of the opportunity. Shalini S. Dagar goes into the details.

Shalini S. Dagar | Print Edition: June 28, 2009

Delhi’s infrastructure will get an overhaul. There will be better roads, power and water supply. The legacy value of the city, too, will get a fillip,” asserts Rakesh Mehta, Chief Secretary, Delhi government. He is counting the benefits to citizens, courtesy the Commonwealth Games, which are to be held from October 3-14, 2010.

Work in progress: Commonwealth Games village project is up against a tight deadline
Work in progress: Commonwealth Games village project is up against a tight deadline
Mehta is sitting in his cavernous office, in what is known as the Players Building. The structure was meant to house the athletes who participated in the 1982 Asiad Games in Delhi, but wasn’t finished in time. It remained abandoned till the Sheila Dixit government moved the Secretariat here. As Mehta and his team gear up for Delhi’s next tryst with another mega sporting event, concerns abound whether the city would have the infrastructure required in place well in time. Mehta, however, is quick to assure that the mammoth plans and preparations are on as scheduled.

On paper, huge allocations have been made to give Delhi a facelift. The Delhi government’s budget over the last few years has seen an increase of Rs 1,000 crore per annum due to the Games. It estimates projects to the tune of Rs 46,000 crore are directly related to the Games. Various Central government ministries, ranging from Sports, Tourism, Housing to Urban Development, too, are involved in the exercise. The Centre expects to spend nearly Rs 9,800 crore on the Games, including a soft loan.

Globally, mega events like the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games go a long way in giving a makeover to the host cities—basic infrastructure of the city is completely revamped and raises its global profile. Consider the international visibility to Beijing during the 2008 Olympic Games. Ajay S. Shriram, Chairman and Senior Managing Director, DCM Shriram Consolidated, who has been staying in Delhi since 1982, says: “A world-class event like this is a booster dose for infrastructure.” He expects better roads, the Metro expansion and the airport modernisation to enhance Delhi’s appeal among global investors.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit
Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit
 'Delhi has Economic opportunities'

Sheila Dixit, who received an unprecedented third term as Delhi Chief Minister last winter, believes that most preparations for the Commonwealth Games 2010 are on track. Neither wanting to be nervous nor over-confident, she hopes that the Games will be remembered for more than just a few things. Excerpts from an interview with Shalini S. Dagar:

Q.  What is topmost on the agenda as of now for Delhi?
A.
The immediate job that we have is that the Commonwealth Games go off smoothly-security wise and infrastructure wise. And of course in terms of the organisation of the Games. There were lots of doubts expressed by everybody. There was water, power… There was a feeling that whether the stadium would be ready or not, whether Games village will be ready or not. I think they are all on line. The basics of water and power which is our responsibility have all been worked out. By the time the Games come, we would have had an addition of 2,000-3,000 MW of power. There were doubts about the airport, but that is alright. It is not visible to the common person, but work is going on inside. I do not expect anybody to be not ready by April or so next year. I don't feel nervous, but I certainly do not feel overconfident either. Hotels were another area where there were concerns, but the bed and breakfast scheme is coming along fine. The DDA has got some of its 5,000 apartments which can be used as places to stay.

Hotels should be ready but not everyone who needs a hotel to stay. So I don't think there will be anything to panic about, but you can't sit satisfied either.

Q. Using DDA apartments to put up tourists.. Is that the optimum way for us to showcase India?
A.
No, there is no optimum way. You could have changed the whole of Delhi. What will be optimum for you may not be the case for someone else. But it will be a pretty city; it will be a comfortable city.

Q. There have been quite a few glitches along the way with the Delhi Urban Arts Commission and other agencies having their say…
A.
The Siri Fort area was one. That has been sorted out. The Barapullah nallah is being built now. So, yes, there were glitches. But I must tell you very frankly, the enormous multiplicity of authorities in Delhi is time consuming and it delays everything. In spite of that because we have a responsibility, so we have to go around telling everybody that please pick it up (the work). So everything is difficult. We come across hitches all the time. But I do not want to sound either intimidated by them or to feel these are excuses that we can give to people. We just have to do it. And we are very fortunate that we have a government with similar ideas at the centre. They are fully aware of the issues and we are getting all the support that we can.

Q.Given that you have a similar minded government at the centre, Is it then possible to avoid this multiplicity of authorities for Delhi? What has been the fate of the Saigal and Pradhan Committee reports?
A.
Yes, it is possible. The government of India has to have the will. We have given them enormous papers and they have made studies of them, the latest being the Moily Administrative Reforms Commission which has also said that Delhi's set-up has to change. It is a city state. It cannot have the multiplicity that it has. We as an elected government have no say in the Delhi Development Authority and we have nothing to do with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. So when the demolitions took place, we were the ones running around although we had nothing to do with it. We neither make bye-laws, nor allow buildings to come up. We do not demolish them as well. We do not give licenses, we do clear plans. Yet we were the ones who were blamed for it all. The central government tells me that they are aware it is a difficult situation-a situation contrary to quick and coordinated development. So I hope they will do something. The ball is in their court.

Q.Has the Commonwealth deadline helped Delhi's infrastructure ramp-up, financially and otherwise?
A.
Oh yes. People have understood. Financially and even in clearances. The Prime Minister himself has been very cooperative and very understanding.

Q. Any lessons (both good and bad) that other cities can learn from Delhi from the Commonwealth Games preparation?
A.
I am not one to give lessons. I can only share my experiences. No other city has this kind of multiplicity. They have state governments and the municipalities which come under the state government. We have the federal government here, the diplomats are here. So Delhi cannot be compared to any other states or cities in the country.

Q. Despite the stock reassuring answers from most government officials on Commonwealth preparations, the general perception is that there is some slack.
A.
I do not have a comment on that. You can't be ready for the Games a year and a half in advance. And work is going on. You can't see today, what you are going to see in October 2010. People are not aware about what is the kind of work that is going on. Everybody thought the buses will not change, the Metro would not come. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I hope when the eating time comes there is a good pudding.

Q. What is the outlook on revenues?
A.
I do not know. God forbid if there is any security concerns. Melbourne fell short of its expectations. But I look at the Games as not just a great honour for India and a recognition of India's status in the world of sports.  I also look upon the Games as an opportunity which will leave behind a legacy which Delhi wouldn't have had for the next 15-20 years.  

Q. Has the emergence of the suburban centres like Gurgaon and Noida relieved some of the pressure off Delhi?
A.
No, not very much, because Delhi is such an attractive economic opportunity city, you see. Whenever there is scarcity anywhere they all come to Delhi. We have no problems with that because it is everybody's capital.

Q. Has the coordination with the surrounding states of the National Capital Region (NCR) improved? And what are the possible solutions here?
A. I am afraid the NCR Planning Board has been a great disappointment.  The Board comprises four states. When one agrees the other doesn't. These are inter-state problems. The only solution is that whatever decisions, they have to be implemented. To my mind, the NCR Planning Board is a non starter. The NCR could have a common economic or development zone.  If you need a piece of land for waste management why can't all the states get together and share the costs. Then we can have similar taxes. There are some common goals. But somehow politics does not help much.

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