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This Commonwealth is uncommonly controversial

  This Commonwealth is uncommonly controversial  

There is less than a year to go. The frantic, stressful last lap has begun to the biggest sporting event Delhi, in fact, India has ever hosted. The 19th edition of the Commonwealth Games will be held in the capital in October, 2010. Ok, we all know that. But what we are still unsure about is whether the city will be in a osition to host it at all, even a year from now. Then again, that is not our real concern. After all, the Commowealth Ganes Federation (CGF) — the organisation directing its logistics — and our Union Sports Minister who is the local host, along with the President of the Indian Olympic Association, are responsible for putting up the show. We just want to take stock of the impact that this global jamboree is likely to have on this city. Do you? If yes, then read on.

   Promises promises…?    

In 2003, when India was still bidding for the Game, it presented an evaluation report, before the CGF. In it the government made certain commitments on the location, look and feature of the Games Village that was to be constructed to house the thousands of atheletes who would arrive in Delhi to participate in the great event.

Now here is a review of what was promised then, and what has been delivered now.

  What was said  

  1. The Government will construct the Village on a secure site, of superior quality.
  2. It was guaranteed that the Games Village will be completed well ahead of the event (the construction timetable was anticipated to be 2 years).
  3. Post games the Village will be used as accommodation for Delhi University staff and students.
  4. The Village will feature low to medium rise buildings.
  5. The Village will be in close proximity to the airport, city and the venues.

  What is done  

  1. The flood prone bed of river Yamuna was chosen, which also falls on the eismic zone.
  2. The construction begun only in early 2007 and is still going on.
  3. The University campus is situated in North Delhi, and another spread out in the South. The Village site, on the other hand, is in the Eastern most corner of Delhi!
  4. The National Building Code, 2005, states that all buildings above 15 metre in height shall be considered high rises. As one floor is on an average about four metres high, so any building with more than four floors is considered a high-rise. Buildings in village site have at least six floors. 
  5. The international airport is at a distance of 25 km. And the range for all the stadiums too is between 15-20 km.


    So why the shores of Yamuna?   

If none of these conditions were being met, why on earth did the authorities zero in on the Yamuna banks? Certainly a puzzle that is yet to be solved. What makes me scratch my head even harder is that this area hosts an aquatic ecosystem, and should anyway have been protected from such rampant building activities. Lets take a look at what the experts have to say about this:

  • The wetlands in the Yamuna river corridor support a wide variety of flora and fauna. 155 plant species of 27 families and 97 birds species have been documented from this area.
  • The wetlands here under continuous threat of being converted to alternate uses (like construction projects), due to pressure of fast expanding city.
  • These wetlands are extremely significant for their water recharge function. In other words, they help replenish groundwater, and hence their economic value is immense. The benefit-cost analysis suggests that this flood plain area must be conserved.

(Source- Valuation of Ecological Functions and Benefits: A case study of Wetlands Ecosystems along the Yamuna River corridors of Delhi Region in 2000, conducted by the World Bank, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF), and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR).

Manoj Mishra of Yanuna Jiye Abhiyaan says “ I delivered my presentation highlighting vulnerability of Yamuna as many as 80 times. I showed it to Vice President of Indian Olympic Association, K. P. Sindhe, to the chief minister of Delhi, and various groups of ministers. All of them sympathised, but did not commit a change.”

     Overriding the experts   

If top notch government research agencies declared the zone to be valuable and vulnerable why was it chosen as the Game Village site at all? The Indian Olympic Association won the bid to host the Games in November 2003. It approached the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) three years later, in October 2006, for environmental clearance of the Yamuna bed site.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) expressed serious environmental concerns on the site and recommended a change of site in November, 2006. But the process of finalising the spot carried on, unhindered. However, the first Clearance letter (EC) provided for raising only temporary ‘dismantle-able’ structures so that the riverbed could be restored after the event.

Delhi doomed?

None of these preventive measures were heeded as work progressed on the ground. The situation remains the same even now. It is evident that Delhi will have to try and heal its Commonwealth-inflicted wounds all by itself. When the spotlights are turned off and the Game is over.

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This Commonwealth is uncommonly controversial