At roughly the same time as the head of the Delhi Commonwealth Games organising committee, Suresh Kalmadi, was patting himself on the back for conducting the event “really well,” prime minister Manmohan Singh was appointing a high-level committee to investigate a string of allegations of corruption into the way it was all handled.
The government was so concerned that it set up the investigation on October 15, the day after the games ended. In fact just as “very satisfied” officials and athletes, in Kalmadi’s words, were on their way back home.
By then, India’s corruption watchdog, the Central Vigilance Committee, was already hard at work on some 20 serious allegations of bribery, false invoicing, skimming of contracts, illegal tendering, use of sub-standard materials (as in the pedestrian bridge that collapsed before the games started), fraudulently extended contracts and various other abuses.
At this stage it seems that “misappropriations” of up 8,000 crore ($1.35bn) could be involved. “A truly alarming amount,” noted a member of the corruption watchdog.
And while Kalmadi continued to enthuse that “the people of Delhi and India have done themselves proud” by “overcoming all challenges” in a way that “demonstrated to the world they have the capacity and commitment to host major international events,” the opposition BJP party was saying exactly the opposite. “Is the whole cabinet not responsible for the chaos and corruption,” party chief Nitin Gadkari asked an embarrassed prime minister.
Although it’s true that the actual competitions went off reasonably smoothly, albeit to largely or nearly empty stadiums, the official comments completely ignore the problems that bedevilled the run-up to the event, intended as a showcase befitting an emerging economic superpower. Officially, a frighteningly late construction programme, filthy toilets in the athletes’ village, last-minute repairs, the use of sub-standard materials, the collapsed bridge: none of them happened.
The glaring discrepancy between the line maintained by the games organising committee and the reality says much about how India’s ingrained corruption work. The responsible bodies, whether sports organisations or provincial governments, typically bury their heads in the sand and pretend nothing’s amiss while the irregularities go on all around them.
The looming issue now is whether the investigators will be allowed to find the skeletons in the cupboard. It’s not as though the problems were discovered just before the games started – chapter and verse on allegations of misappropriations first surfaced last year. The organising committee’s treasurer, pleading innocence, resigned in August over the awarding of the contract for the tennis courts. And gradually a whole web of government departments, games officials and ministers got drawn into numerous investigations, mostly over construction projects.
At present, investigations focus on a number of Delhi government authorities including the development agency, sports ministry and the games organising committee. Even the meteorological department is reportedly being “looked into.”
As the probes deepen, a war of words has erupted between Kalmadi and Delhi’s chief minister Shiela Dikshit, with both accusing the other of corruption. In defending himself, the games chief makes a valid point that the chief minister controlled a budget for the games that was roughly 10 times the one for which he was responsible.
The prime minister’s committee is due to report early next year when, the sports minister promises, any officials found to be corrupt will be sacked. “We will look into every single charge and the truth shall be brought before the nation.”
Possibly. We’ve heard this before. It’s unlikely however that any medals will be handed out.