Somesh Arora: Organising CWG — The deep-rooted malady

Now that the Games are over, we can draw some solace from the fact that we might have seen a number of failings, but did not fail as a nation.  For the respite that came from Games being a complete let down, we must thank our former PM Mrs Indira Gandhi (posthumously), our creative talent of Hindi Film Industry and our Army and security agencies, in that order.

To Mrs Indira Gandhi, we feel obliged because ultimately 80 per cent of the stadiums and other facilities, which were used in these Games were those created during her time at the time of Asiad in 1982 with only the top floor of the stadiums being built now. But for her contribution of the past, we might have been totally disgraced as a nation. To the time tested creative talent of Film Industry, we again owe a lot, because right from the presence in the closing ceremony of previous version of Games in Australia in 2006 to the opening ceremony in Delhi in 2010 to its closing ceremony, their strong contribution brought us accolades. The Commonwealth Games have never seen such an opening and may not see it in a long time, because the only better version, Hollywood, may not be involved, as USA is not part of these games. The Army as usual should get credit because they delivered when the ‘Jugaad’ failed. They fixed up the footbridge that collapsed days before the game. Their imprint on the Games could be seen from providing security cover to holding well-drilled medal ceremonies to hoisting of the flags, to nurturing some of the winning talent of the Games.

 Now, what brought us disgrace, the list can be long. It consists of individuals, institutions and organizations. About 50% of the projects which were initiated in the names of the Games with the datelines of completion before CWG remained incomplete. Roads in Delhi, other than those than had the CWG lane, remained full of pits or patchwork. Why the things  came to a pass that nothing short of the PM of the country had to inspect unfinished venues personally and  had to call emergency meeting of the Cabinet to get the promised delivery. Despite this some of the stadium remained unfinished, games village could not accommodate all, the metro line from airport to railway station could not be delivered and even Organising Committee had to admit that they were virtually cheated by contractors who kept them in the dark. The confidence in contractors proved a bane for the games and almost showed that the mandate of the Government has ceased to run over them. Perhaps, it also showed that no other PM of India has proved strong enough to extract delivery from corrupt elements that are involved in construction projects to the extent Indira Gandhi and Rajiv combination in 1982 could. Now, we may have to think twice before undertaking to organize such big sporting events. We at the most are fit to organize big time cultural events and may be forced to disguise any other event under the shadow of our culture, as happened with XIXth CWG. 

The fact of the matter is that our Developer-Contractor industry, despite being the least regulated in the world, is so incompetent ( by and large) and fed on corruption that it takes everything for granted. For it, do not exist the democratic pillars of Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. As, it has learned to manage all of these. Since 2008(i.e. recession), this nexus has duped public of its money by not delivering on 90 percent of land and other projects in housing and commercial sector promised to it.

The deadlines simply do not exist for developers and contractors, because they feel that they can easily take on even the might of the public. There may be hardly any developer in the country, who does not have the blessings of some big time politician. And once these developers and contractors share the fruits of corruption with them, they treat the beneficiaries as the dogs who at the most can bark at them but cannot bite. However, this time they betrayed even some politicians and government by delaying and siphoning off to other projects the monies, they got for CWG at inflated prices. Such was their confidence of getting away with their wrongdoings and in the weakened mandate of the people in position. Since, 1970’s, the smuggling which was most lucrative and remunerative of illegal activities, started yielding to money laundering in land deals and attracted even the biggest of the names of that time like Haji Mastan to be followed by Dawood towards real estate. By 1990’s the nexus of Developer-Contractors–Politicians became so strong that it came to exist even in Tier- II and Tier-III cities. The law remained loose and Industry has remained unregulated till date and attracts highest cash inflows from tax evaders, smugglers and canalizes the corruption money of the powerful next only to Swiss accounts. Obviously, there are vested interest and blue-eyed boys of people in position and power, who help them in getting the best land deals and change of land use and government contracts.

Such all pervasive is their hold on the economy that they can, with their clout, get the best of the mines in tribal areas, get the agricultural lands notified as SEZs, delay the execution of projects with impunity. The government of the day failed in the instant case of CWG to appreciate that they can even betray them in execution as they so often do with the public. Every politician has to realize that corruption comes with a price tag. The hands that deliver the slush money are also the ones, who take you for granted and can run you down. This is the peril of the corruption. It erodes authority. In the past, we had r Cabinet Ministers, who were able to keep their safe distance from the corporate czars and mafias. But around late 1990’s, the holding of durbar culture marked the beginning of erosion of the authority of the top politicians, in a number of cases. In Judiciary, those judges who even now practice abstinence from open public contact, have high public image. In a democracy, the inaccessible people in position are reached out through lobbying and the accessible through liaisoning. While the former is done publicly and can be counteracted by other pressure groups, same cannot be the  case with the latter, which is done in privacy.

 In fact, if the contractor lobby in this country had been compliant with the government contracts, there would not have been any need to persist with agencies like NHAI (which has the ability to perform well depending upon who is the Minister at the helm) or with individuals like E. Sreedharan, who are being made to work on important projects despite their age, because there are no substitutes available for their ability of timely execution in this country of more than one billion. One can empathise with him, when he expressed that Airport-New Delhi Station Express Line could not be completed in time, as the contract was not being handled by Metro directly. The Army which has the ability of timely execution cannot be called to execute civil projects. So, the options are naturally limited for any Government.

Why the governments look so pathetic and compromised, that we have the instance of CM of a state surveying a half mud- half built expressway on a helicopter, after the expiry of its first dateline for completion. One has not to look beyond the blogs and websites to see how this nexus has cheated and duped the citizens of Indian in every nook and corner of their hard earned savings of a lifetime with delays and non-delivery. Recent `Adarsh Society Scam’ involving bureaucrats and even top military officials shows how deep rooted is the malaise. Consider the death of more than 56 persons in one building collapse in the National capital of Delhi, which was not related to any natural cause but to human greed of builder-police and-MCD mafia and we deserve to hang our heads in shame. It is a pointer to the total collapse of the system. Such events are not sporadic but occur with regular frequency. If one starts counting them, the cumulative effect of the events will be quite heart breaking for any citizen of this country.

The Chinese with whom we tend to compare ourselves were able to hold Asian Games after Olympics on an all together different venue. But our sports administrators lost an opportunity to build another new and Hi-tech city, simply because one sports administrator wanted venue of the Games village to be close to his house to reduce commute time for him in Delhi.

Remedial course, which can be designed, will require putting in place a strong regulation mechanism with emphasis on timely delivery. Blacklisting Developers cannot help as the men behind these companies can always float a new one.  Better to have an independent rating system for the Government Contractors in place and may be an intelligence based performance system appraisal. The new ones can initially be tried only for minor contracts involving value of less than one crore and the established ones with high rating can be given high value contracts. The regulations can be in place to disallow the use of public money for any other project and purpose than the one for which it is received. For, it is seen that number of these developers siphon off money from semi –finished projects to other projects especially during the Industry created boom periods. And while it reduces requirement of self funding for them, by what has come to be known as process of   ‘Topi Ghumana’ (‘rotating the hat’ - if I am permitted loose translation), but inflates the cost due to delay for the prospective buyers. The regulations should emphasize on allowing money to be recovered only linked with construction or with development of land. Heavy penal clauses to be evoked in case of delay in case of government projects. Regulations should also  permit funding by banks and financial institutions of only that part which is unencumbered and on which no installment has been paid by the prospective buyers. For instance, if on a one core rupee worth of a land, Rs. 50 lakhs have been paid by the prospective buyer, then bank should not advance loan for more than 50 lakhs less margin money and should see to it that it is reduced further with  every further money recovered from buyer. In the days to come, it can be expected that lot of buyers or banks are going to be duped due to non-observance of this simple common sense based loan practice. The non –delivery by the developers to their prospective buyers in a number of cases is due to the fact that land allotted to their buyers are also given as security to banks for loans taken by them. And the post 2008 scenario, has compelled the developers to default or delay in many cases on their loan repayments and they only hope for the buyers who have by now paid substantial money, is to wait till another boom in land prices materializes i.e. till the ‘hat starts rotating’ again.