Skip to main content

Commonwealth Games building goes to wire

By Harmeet Singh, CNN
  • Building work not yet finished for Commonwealth Games starting October 3
  • Work has been dogged by allegations of corruption
  • Locals in New Delhi had hoped improvements made for the Games would rid city of some of its worst problems
  • About 1,600 athletes will compete in the Games

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- India's capital is no stranger to cesspools of standing water, disease and punishing gridlock when rains happen.

Many New Delhi residents had hoped the billions of dollars the country was spending on hosting one of the world's biggest sporting events would rid the city of its chronic problems.

But some believe the city's woes are growing as it prepares for the Commonwealth Games, weeks before they are slated to kick off on October 3.

India is estimated to be spending more than $2 billion now, way above the initial projections made seven years ago when India won the bid. Officials said the increased spending covers training, security, broadcasting and telecommunication.

About 6,500 athletes from 71 teams -- mostly countries from the former British Empire - will travel to India for the games and will play in newly built or renovated stadia.

But today, ringed by heaps of bricks and concrete, workers are still laboring day and night at business centers, metro rail projects and near sporting venues.

Dug-up construction sites with shallow pits of muddy water serve as ideal habitats for disease-carrying mosquitoes.

More than 1,400 people have been diagnosed with dengue this year, many of them during the monsoon, said Devashish Bhattacharya, New Delhi's chief medical officer in charge of dengue outbreaks. "Definitely, the number of cases are much more than last year," he told CNN.

We thought such a big sporting exercise will improve our lives as citizens. But it's all topsy-turvy now
--Businessman Tarun Dhingra

Health workers have launched anti-larvae and fumigation drives that he insists will help eliminate mosquito breeding before the games start.

In remarks broadcast last month, the city's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, urged recourse to prayers in case rains run into October. "... I can only pray and request you to pray, the city to pray, the whole country to pray," she said.

But not everybody is subscribing to her views.

"There's no point in blaming the rains," says economist Govinda Rao.

Preparations, some analysts say, are struck by the same cocktail of poor planning, suspected large-scale corruption and weak regulations that plague India's bigger programs.

"In fact, there's been a lot of overspending in the name of the Commonwealth Games. It has not been properly planned. There has been no proper sequencing either," said Rao, who is economic advisor to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The nation, Rao believes, needs to put its infrastructure priorities in order as it emerges as an economic powerhouse.

"We need to assess requirements not just for today but for the future," said Rao. He added India has to coordinate projects across government departments rather than just set aside funds for infrastructure development

Sports and government officials are downplaying the issues surrounding preparations for the games.

"Yes, we are committed to realizing the Indian dream of delivering the best Commonwealth Games," its organizing committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi wrote in a blog.

He denied the allegations of corruption and crooked deals that have dogged the event.

This, as Prime Minister Singh has ordered an inquiry into complaints of irregularities. "...those found guilty should face severe and exemplary punishment," a statement from his office said last month.

Singh sees the games as an occasion to showcase his country's clout. "India will have an opportunity to present its culture, its achievements, its warm hospitality and its organizational capabilities to the world," read the statement.

He insisted the event would be held successfully under the supervision of his cabinet ministers.

In New Delhi last month, Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell conveyed his concerns over accusations of impropriety against organizers.

"We feel that the allegations of corruption need to be investigated thoroughly by the Indian authorities," he said. "Whatever needs to be done should be done in accordance with the laws of this country."

Yet, he defended New Delhi's groundwork in the lead-up to the games.

"All competition venues are complete for all practical purposes," he told reporters on August 20. "There is some site work, outside appearance, landscaping and cleaning to be done with great urgency but this will be completed very shortly. This is not strange or unique to Delhi. Once they are done and finishing touches are given, we are going to have world class venues here."

Ahead of the event, India has opened a gleaming airport terminal in the city, built and rebuilt roads and overpass bridges and expanded its prestigious metro rail network.

Some residents, however, say they deserved a better deal.

"We thought such a big sporting exercise will improve our lives as citizens. But it's all topsy-turvy now," says Tarun Dhingra, a 37-year-old businessman. "Let's hope the country pulls it off."