Appalling delay

The report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General to the prime minister on the poor progress of the projects undertaken for next year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi should wake up the authorities. There is only one year left for the Games and India hopes to show to the world that it has the ability and necessary infrastructure to host major multi-venue international sports events. But the CAG report raises serious doubts about it. There are 19 venues under preparation and work on most of them is behind schedule, in some cases by 50 per cent. The final design for the main stadium is not yet ready. The preparations for the Games involve not only the construction of stadia, living quarters, etc for the athletes and others and putting in place of equipment but also the completion of many supporting infrastructure projects. Building of flyovers and tunnels, widening of roads and extension of the Delhi Metro network are all part of this. Some of these are also behind schedule and some others have been dropped. It is not that there was not enough time. The deadline, May 2009, for completion of work was set years ago and still we find it difficult to complete it.

Hasty completion of the work will lead to compromise on quality. There is suspicion that the recent accidents in the Delhi Metro were the result of attempts to push the work against failing deadlines. The renovated Delhi airport sprang a leak from the roof last month, flooding the passengers’ area and disrupting flights. Schedules should be redrawn for timely completion of the projects, and they should be strictly implemented, if necessary involving more workmen and arrangements. It must be ensured that quality does not suffer.

India has to learn from the preparations China made for the 2008 Olympics and the infrastructure building other countries made for other big sports events. They were not just attempts to create world class sports facilities and promote soft power, but investments in productive urban infrastructure which would give handsome returns. The payback is not only economic but in terms of improvement in the quality of people’s lives and liveability of cities. The prime minister should take special  interest to ensure that all Games projects are speeded up and the infrastructure development plan is managed efficiently and completed in time.

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