Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Questioning the Commonwealth Games: Are we missing something in our rush to make Delhi a "World Class City?"
President Patil received the Queen's Baton at Buckingham Palace last week, setting off the official countdown to the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
For years, the good people of Delhi been hearing about these Games and how they are making ours a World Class City. Certainly, they come with a World Class Price Tag: these will be the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever; the total cost, including infrastructure related to the games, will come to 1.6 billion US dollars! The Games have been so expensive because they have been used to justify any number of projects: airport modernization; slum demolition; flyover and metro construction; new sporting venues; and much, much more.
The Games have met with loads of criticism at every step, for all sorts of reasons; this is Delhi after all, what do you expect? I'm not going to give you hyperlinks for all that, but if there is a doubt in your mind, try googling Commonwealth Games 2010 criticism; I did, and I got more than 24,000 links. Maybe it sounds worse than it is. A lot of these are stories about officials saying the games are fine in spite what everyone is saying! Which is reassuring, right?
Who really knows? Not us. The Games could be grand, they could be a mess. I, for one, am not hoping for failure. And I completely support the politeness classes being given to over 5,000 autowallas. Now if they could just improve the manners of the other four million drivers on Delhi's roads, it might really be worth $1.6 billion--and then some!
But sometimes late at night, I find myself thinking thoughts that are not so...positive. I find myself wondering: if we could do it all over again, would we really want to host these Games?
I love Delhi, and I think it is a World Class City, I really do. (I promise I'll explain why some other time!) But I don't think Delhi is a WCC because of it has modern airports, crowded flyovers, or even because I once heard a man from England actually say our Metro is better than the London Underground!
These things are impressive, and every city needs infrastructure that works. But there are other types of infrastructure that are getting less attention than they might otherwise get if we weren't so focused on fun and games. Let's look for one minute at two things many people would say are at least as important as stadiums, airports, flyovers, and metros: water and schools.
Did you know that something like 45 percent of the Delhi's population is not connected to the sewage system? Just look at the Yamuna after it passes out of Delhi. That doesn't just affect wild life, of course; most cases of diarrehea are caused by drinking water contamination. Is it any wonder that diarrhea causes over twelve hundred deaths a day in India? (And we worry about H1N1!) Before we agree to another mega sports event, why not provide every Indian with clean drinking water and a sanitary toilet.
Or look at education. In spite of what I said earlier this week about our schools, India's made real improvements over the years when it comes to literacy. But we've got a long ways to go. Until we bring Bihar a lot closer to Kerala on this graph, then maybe we need to think twice about spending $1.6 billion on what are, when all is said and done, just games. You know what they say: studies before play!
I know there are a host of arguments about why the Games are good. Some of them even makes sense; I'd love to hear what you think.