October 19, 2010


[The panel established by the prime minister will submit its report in January, while two government agencies, the Central Vigilance Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General, will present separate probes.]

By Blade
Days after the most expensive Commonwealth Games to date concluded in New Delhi, a mud-slinging contest has broken out between the event's organisers and city rulers.

A panel set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has begun probing allegations of corruption over soaring costs, shoddy construction and shady payments to contractors as the budget tripled to an estimated six billion dollars.

But anti-graft watchdogs believe a protracted public war of words between those under the microscope will do little to puncture India's political culture of unaccountability.
Motorcyclists drive past grafitti sprayed walls protesting against alleged corruption in the recently held 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi on October 18, 2010. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)
"The corruption has taken place -- how can a report change that? What has happened can't be undone," Anupama Jha, executive director of the India chapter of Transparency International, told AFP.

"It will matter only if the guilty are punished," she said. "Top-level politicians and bureaucrats are never punished.

"We all know that top politicians and bureaucrats get away scot-free. Everything goes back to business as usual once the media glare is off."

The panel established by the prime minister will submit its report in January, while two government agencies, the Central Vigilance Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General, will present separate probes.

"There is a chance some of the underlings could be named and nailed, while people at the top make their escape," Samuel Paul, founder of the Bangalore-based non-profit Public Affairs Centre, told AFP.

"India's record on accountability is not great."

All parties involved in the Games have welcomed examination of their conduct, but they have also been quick to deflect blame and point the finger elsewhere.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit told the Press Trust of India news agency at the weekend that "the real corruption" took place within the organising committee.

Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the organising committee, in turn accused Dikshit of hogging the limelight and stealing credit for a "faultless" Games.

"She must indulge in self-reflection on corruption in her own departments," he said.

The organising committee received loans worth 16 billion rupees (360 million dollars) from the central government, but Kalmadi said that the committee's budget was only a tenth of the Delhi government's Games budget.

"It's not surprising. Each one is trying to protect his or her back," said Paul, reflecting on the two politicians' outbursts.

Both Dikshit and Kalmadi are wily veterans from the governing Congress party: Dikshit is a three-time chief minister of Delhi, while Kalmadi is an MP who has headed the Indian Olympic Association for 14 years.

The Central Vigilance Commission in August reported a plethora of problems with construction work, including the use of poor-quality materials and the award of dubious contracts.

In one of the worst incidents, a new footbridge next to the main stadium fell down and injured scores of labourers ten days before the opening ceremony.

India lies 84th out of 180 countries on a corruption ranking prepared by Transparency International.

The Games, which ended with a jubilant closing ceremony on October 14, were seen as a chance to spotlight India's emerging economic superpower status after the success of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Despite poor crowd turnouts and severe ticketing glitches, many Indians cheered India's best-ever Games' medals haul and expressed relief and pride that pessimistic expectations of disaster had been proved wrong.

NEW DELHI: With the Commonwealth Games behind it, the government on Friday night ordered a probe into allegations of corruption in the organising of the mega event. A PMO communique said the Prime Minister has asked a panel headed by former CAG V K Shunglu to hold the inquiry.

A clear indication that the government would walk the talk on identifying those guilty of wrongdoing came when the sports secretary shot off a letter to the Organising Committee, on Thursday, asking it not to relieve its officials till further orders. This, sources said, was to ensure that they are available for questioning by agencies that would be probing specific corruption charges.

That the top government leadership was unhappy with the Organising Committee (OC) was evident when chairman Suresh Kalmadi was not invited for a felicitation ceremony that the Prime Minister held for Indian athletes who won medals at the Games this evening.

Since the event had attracted adverse media attention not only within the country but also outside, the government leadership was against taking a lenient view of the OC’s misdemeanours in the run up to the Games.

It be recalled that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had told a meeting of Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) that those found guilty would not be spared. “I trust that as soon as the Games are over, the government will look into allegations of malpractice and spare no one found to be involved in them,” Ms Gandhi had said.

On Friday morning, external affairs minister SM Krishna, who was interacting with a group of reporters, reiterated the point. “Whatever has been said, I think the government will follow it up. That is government’s function,” he said when asked whether he felt that there should be a probe into allegations of corruption as they marred India’s image.

That the Opposition would keep up pressure on the government to act was evident when BJP said that it was now time to probe the cases of corruption. With Parliament session barely three weeks away, the Opposition can be expected to raise the issue once again.

Trouble is already brewing for the government as the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, headed by Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, is ready with a report indicting government agencies involved in the execution of projects.

The panel had wanted to present its report before the commencement of the event but Congress members prevailed upon the chairman to hold till the event’s completion.


The upper castes, it seems, are not the only ones who discriminate against Dalits.

Three Dalit men in Rajasthan were fined R15,000 each by their Muslim sarpanch (village headman) for drinking water from a public tap on Wednesday evening in Randhisar village, 90 km from Bikaner town in the northwestern part of the state. The trio, Beer Balram Meghwal, Sattu Ram and Nandu Ram, has lodged a police complaint.

“We were drinking water from the public tap used by our Meghwal caste,” Beer Balram said. “Gheesu Khan (another villager) was filling his pots nearby. Some water splashed on to his pots and he started fighting with us. He then called the sarpanch, Gope Khan, who fined us R15,000 each.”

When the Dalit community protested, some members were allegedly roughed up by Gheesu Khan and his cohorts. There are around 200 families in the village from the Rajput, Muslim and Meghwal communities.

Police have been deployed in the village to defuse tension. Bikaner Superintendent of Police Habib Gouran said cases had been filed against Gheesu Khan, Khanu Khan, Ramne Khan and Ghulam Khan.

“It is unfortunate that 63 years after Independence we are have not been able to bring about equality in society,” Bikaner MP Arjun Ram Meghwal of the BJP said. “The sarpanch should be punished. I will raise this issue in Parliament.”

Despite several attempts to contact him, the sarpanch could not be reached by Hindustan Times.

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