The Delhi tabloid Mail Today on Saturday reported that over 200 politicians and officials from various government and civic bodies were sent on foreign tours — that effectively turned out to be junkets — to study various aspects of organising the Commonwealth Games. These include, apart from the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, the sports ministry, government of Delhi, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi ( MCD), the New Delhi Municipal Council ( NDMC) and the Delhi Development Authority ( DDA).
Close to ` 45 crore of taxpayers' money was spent on these trips, government sources said, of which ` 33 crore alone was spent by Delhi government to send a 50- member delegation to Melbourne as an “ observer group” during the closing ceremony of the previous Commonwealth Games in 2006.
Taxpayers ended up paying in excess of ` 5 lakh per person for every trip that lasted, on an average, five days. In almost all cases, government sources said, the delegates flew first class and stayed in top- flight hotels. An additional unreported amount was spent in hosting parties.
This expense would have been justified had these politicians and officials implemented their learning while organising the Commonwealth Games to be held this October in the Capital. Unfortunately, none of these trips to Melbourne, Beijing and London resulted in any kind of report that could help spread the knowledge gained. In fact, many of those who went on these “ study” trips are no longer associated with the Games in any manner.
They include: BJP leader and former Union sports minister Vijay Goel; former transport minister of Delhi Haroon Yusuf; former chief secretary of Delhi S. Reghunathan; former Delhi tourism chief Sanat Kaul; and former joint commissioner of police ( traffic) S. N. Srivastava.
Some others were part of sports federations, but had no significant contribution to make to the Commonwealth Games. These include: Jagdish Tytler, Congress leader and the president of the Judo Federation of India; Satish Sharma, Congress leader and president of the Aero Club of India; Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Akali Dal leader and mayor of the Games Village; and K. P. Singh Deo, the president of the Rowing Federation of India. Perhaps the most surprising of all inclusions was that of Chetan Chauhan, a former Test cricketer and two- time MP. Neither has he any role in organising the Games nor is his sport included in the Commonwealth Games.
In addition to politicians and sports federation heads, at least 30 senior officials and engineers of the DDA, CPWD, MCD and NDMC have been to Beijing, all at Indian Olympic Association ( IOA) expense, before and after the 2008 Olympics. Delhi's Lieutenant Governor Tejinder Khanna was part of the Beijing jamboree.
Another surprise junketeer was former joint commissioner of police (traffic), S.N. Srivastava, who went to Beijing to understand the traffic system there and was to prepare a report on the same on his return. He did not file that report, and in any case, he is now posted with the Delhi Armed Police.
Top government sources added that a majority of these outings turned out not to be study tours but shopping and sightseeing trips. “Many of the people who went on these trips had no connection with the organisation of the Commonwealth Games,” a source said. “Why were their trips approved?” He added that the expenses for these trips were borne at different times by the Delhi government, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the OC.
Among the regular junketeers was the now-suspended OC director-general T.S. Darbari. So was Ashok Kumar Mattoo, who was reappointed OC treasurer this week after his first stint ended with his resignation in January 2010. Mattoo came into the national spotlight last year for his abject handling of the pay dispute that led the Indian men's hockey team to go on strike. Another regular was V.K. Verma, who, as Badminton Association of India chief, has received a derecognition notice from the sports ministry.
The junketeering began six months before the Melbourne Games, when a 10-member group flew to the city to study the preparations. The 50-member “observer group” sent later to the closing ceremony included Sheila Dikshit, who perhaps had a genuine reason to be there as the chief minister of the host state.
Other Delhi politicians who went to Melbourne but returned without achieving much include then state tourism minister Arvinder Singh Lovely ( whose bed- and- breakfast scheme crash- landed even before taking off) and former state transport minister Haroon Yusuf ( whose portfolio went to Lovely after the 2008 assembly elections).
Despite the huge amount spent on these “ study tours”, there was precious little that was learned. If they had, perhaps the non- feasible and avoidable design plans wouldn't have passed muster. The cost of constructing just five stadiums went up from the original ` 990 crore to the revised ` 2,600 crore.
A Sports Authority of India ( SAI) official said, “ The money spent on the Games venues could have brought down by 50- 60 per cent, had the frequent fliers taken the right tips from the organisers of the 2012 London Olympics.”
The official added: “ Do we really need the Rs 600- crore umbrella over Nehru Stadium? It's been modelled after the 20- metre- high ‘ wrap' over the Olympic Stadium in London, which has been designed to prevent the city's frequent rains from disrupting the event. Does it ever rain in Delhi in October?”
The SAI official said that London has built a basketball arena that is easily one of the largest temporary venues ever built.
“ The same venue will be used for both basketball and handball with a turnaround time of 22 hours,” he said.
“ Likewise, the hockey stadium will only be a temporary venue; once the Olympics are over, the two turfs will be designated as community grounds.”
In Delhi, on the other hand, Rs 262 crore was spent to remodel National Stadium with three synthetic turfs, new elevators and airconditioned toilets. But when UK Prime Minister David Cameron visited the stadium, he refused to use it on security grounds.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground, with just an added layer of grass, doubled as the venue for the Games ceremonials in 2006. In Delhi, the OC has coughed up Rs 800 crore to a UK firm to put up temporary structures around the main venues, even as 300 rooms in the Nehru Stadium remain unutilised. The junketeers, clearly, did not have education on their list of priorities.