New Delhi: With the Commonwealth flag handed over to India for the 2010 games and a 'See you in Delhi' slogan, India promised a grand international sporting event to the world in 2006. While preparations for the Games are in full swing, environmentalists have serious concerns about the safety of the Games Village.
Along with the games village, Delhi's sports infrastructure, and its meaning to the Capital in the years to come are under the scanner with less than two years to go for the big event.
Chief engineer, Thyagaraj Stadium, Anil Kumar Pandit and his team are working hard to get the netball venue at the Thyagaraja Stadium ready in time for the 2010 games.
"The stadium is one of the largest indoor stadiums for netball and it is centrally air-conditioned. For Commonwealth Games it will be used for netball training as well as competition. But in the legacy it can be used for events like table tennis, badminton, basketball, roller skating and lots of other socio-cultural events," explains Pandit.
The Thyagaraj stadium will also be a training venue for field events, with new synthetic tracks, retractable motorized seats and cavity walls to cut the heat. The creators of the Rs 297 crore project say it has been designed with the environment in mind.
"In fact, we have used green building materials, technology that we have used is a green technology during the use also it is all eco-friendly material like we used fly ash bricks," assures Pandit.
However, not everything about the Games is environment-friendly. The Games Village — which will be both home and training ground for the athletes during the Games — is set to come up on the banks of the Yamuna.
"There will be a transport centre, a recreational area and a system for wastage disposal. It will be a self-contained village. All facilities will be provided there, plus residential accommodation for 8000 people," says spokesperson DDA, Neemo Dhar.
But environmentalists say the Games Village is a disaster waiting to happen. The area on which the village is coming up is highly flood and earthquake prone.
"The greatest danger of the floodplains in Delhi is that this lies on a earthquake faultline Delhi itself is zone four. So if you have a high rise and a structure in a floodplain and if there is an earthquake, even a medium level earthquake, everything will tumble down," explains Yamuna Jiya Abhiyan's Manoj Misra.
The Games Village site violates a Delhi High Court order that prohibits encroachment on the Yamuna flood plains. Another set of experts - the Usha Mehra Committee had also rejected the Delhi Development Authority's plans.
And more recently, the Delhi High Court made it clear that any construction on the floodplain would be at the builders' risk. But authorities insist approvals are in place.
"As far as DDA is concerned all clearances have been taken which are mandatory for starting a new developmental project. I think that should not have any doubts," says Dhar.
However, with elections around the corner, the site has now become a political issue.
"No the village would not have been there if we were in power. And also to build a tunnel or roads for that purpose or a big flyover is a waste of money," insists BJP's chief ministerial candidate V K Malhotra.
But Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit defends her party as she says, "We were not the real ones to review the sites, it was the central Government. The BJP Government at that time as the Lieutenant Governor was of the BJP and this was land allotted by them so why is there a controversy now when all the work has started."
Another venue caught up in controversy is the Siri Fort Sports Complex as hundreds of trees have been cut down there to make way for badminton and squash courts.
"When the extension of the Siri Fort is happening, we don't need such a big area to be cleared. But I think behind it the assumption is not just sports, there's also intention to commercialise the area," says environmentalist Ravi Agarwal.
"I think games overall are a tremendous opportunity as one can reinvent a city. Barcelona has done that. But the way things are going on in Delhi, I think its going to be the opposite that the games are going to be a huge drain on our resources. And the assets that they create are not going to benefit the city as a whole in the long term," says sociologist Amita Baviskar.
Meanwhile, Games organisers inspired by China's hosting of the Olympics say the Commonwealth Games are a stepping-stone to greater things. They say the Games are well worth the Rs 5000 crore the Government is spending on them.
"The incomes are there from sponsorships, TV revenues, then from merchandising and ticket sale, so the costs will be met. The infrastructure is like a legacy for the people of Delhi," says Chairman, Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee, Suresh Kalmadi.
But the government has a poor track record of maintaining the infrastructure that it does create.
"I think it's important to look at the previous set of sports infrastructure we created at the time of the Asian Games in 1982. We got the famous Indira Gandhi stadium, Indraprastha stadium with its retractable roof and we were told that this was state-of-the-art technology. But now the roof leaks, the infrastructure is completely rusted and the so-called retractable roof doesn't retract," says Baviskar.
Although hosting the Commonwealth Games is matter of great pride for India but questions like — is spending over Rs 5,000 crore on sports infrastructure a wise decision. And will hosting the Commonwealth Games introduce a new sports culture in the Capital or will it just be a white elephant — haven't yet been answered.