The human cost of hosting the Commonwealth Games

Parliament witnessed noisy scenes and adjournments over alleged financial irregularities in preparations for the Commonwealth Games. But the human cost of hosting the games in the national capital that is struggling to get ready for the event in the face of rising costs and criticism may be far more serious

Construction debris lies scattered outside Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the centrepiece of preparations for the Commonwealth Games to be held in India’s capital city, New Delhi, from October 3-14, 2010. It’s the same scenario right across the city: in Connaught Circle, vehicles and pedestrians manoeuvre between vast troughs of mud and construction equipment as work continues on almost every major sports facility.

No one is exactly sure how much the Games will cost, but if the infrastructure projects are factored in this will be the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever.

This fact, along with charges of corruption, has provoked a lot of discussion across the country in the past few weeks. Many argue the money could have been put to better use; in a country where child mortality rates are the highest in the world and an estimated 700 million do not have access to a toilet there is the need to factor in the human cost.

Activists allege that nearly 100 construction workers have died at Commonwealth Games sites in accidents or from illnesses contracted in crowded camps set up as temporary accommodation. Hundreds more, they say, have been injured. Last month, the government admitted that 42 labourers had died whilst working on various Commonwealth Games sites; 18 others suffered serious injuries.

Appropriate action has been taken against employers in connection with accidents that were found to be technical in nature, Minister of State for Labour Harish Rawat recently informed the Rajya Sabha in a written reply. He said 78 prosecutions had been filed and 41 people convicted for violating various safety and health provisions.

Yet another black mark against the Games organisers is the exploitation of children. Although no children are employed, the young offspring of over 400,000 construction workers at the sites are deprived of basic rights like sanitation, schooling and healthcare.

A February report by a Delhi High Court-appointed committee said workers at Games sites earned inadequate wages and received no health benefits or safety gear. “Sanitation facilities are almost non-existent, with mobile toilets in some places not cleaned. There are no facilities for childcare like anganwadis at or near the site.”

“Housing conditions are very poor with tin and plastic sheets being used as housing materials,” the report added.

Those who have perhaps paid the heaviest price for the Games are the slum-dwellers who were either living on land needed for construction for the Games or whose shabby homes marred the image of Delhi as a “world-class city”. Many tens of thousands have been forcibly displaced. Some have been resettled on the outskirts of Delhi; others have simply been left to live on the streets or return to their homes in the villages. Around 3,000 beggars have been “removed”, according to officials.

Officials argue that such measures are a necessary part of good municipal planning. But for Dunu Roy of the Hazards Centre, an independent think-tank that has analysed the economic cost of the Games, the money has been poorly spent. “These vast stadiums are not going to be used for the next 20 years unless they get another big tournament,” Roy said.

“For a fraction of the budget you could have provided every primary school in Delhi with a fully-equipped playground; colleges could have had playing fields; you could have put sports academies all over the place,” he said.

Source: The Economic Times, August 4, 2010
            The Guardian, August 4, 2010
           The Asian Age, July 28, 2010