‘CWG will change Delhi in a jiffy’
In her third term as Delhi's Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit has given meaning to change. Delhi, since she came to power in 1998, looks a completely different place. New ideas of urban development have been incubated. It is not that everything has worked, but Dikshit's government was seen to be busy doing something. In her first two terms, pollution has been fought by bringing in the green fuel: CNG. Campaigns against plastic and fire crackers have been carried forward through Bhagidari with citizens of Delhi, including school children. Now the Dikshit government is faced with the biggest challenge of completing major projects before the Commonwealth Games get flagged off in October 2010. With half completed stadia and dug up roads, currently, it all looks like a nightmare for the Delhi government; but Dikshit, who is personally supervising many of these projects, is confident of their completion. Delhi would be a different place after the games, she feels. Her worries, though, will not end even after the Games get over. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Sanjay Kapoor in Delhi
Is it true that organising the Commonwealth Games (CWG) is the toughest challenge that you handled since you became chief minister in 1998?
Yes and No. It's tough because it is time-bound. There are too many agencies involved in it. There are so many clearances and technical requirements that have to be sought with a lot of minute detailing which is required on a number of aspects. So as far as meticulous planning is concerned, it has been the toughest. It is a very sophisticated job and things have to meet the requisite parameters. The flooring has to be the right size, the tiles have to be the right size, the entry and exit points have to be right, and the transport system has to be good and smooth. People have to live there and moreover 8,000 athletes have to be ferried up and down all over the city, as the stadiums are not confined to one area. Shooting is at one end, then swimming at another and so on and so forth. So there was also a need to draw up a map for coordination and communication.
The preparations were supposed to be over a few months in advance? And why has it all got jammed at the end?
No, it only appears to be jammed. Everything will be ready by August and we will have the whole of September to do all the trials. The stadiums are ready and test games have already begun. Only the entry and exit points have to be completed. The media centre is ready. We may be just a month behind schedule and that is not much of a delay.
How do you think would CWG change Delhi?
Actually it will change Delhi in a jiffy. The changes you are seeing today would not have happened in at least the next 10 or 12 years. The CWG is not all about stadiums. It is about putting a whole system together - roads, housing facilities, transport etc. We would not have achieved so much, so fast without Delhi hosting the CWG. We will have 272km of roads by the time we finish the preparations. We have acquired new buses. Despite India being one of the largest members of the Commonwealth, it is the first time that we are hosting the games. The games are only for 15 days, but the legacy will remain for a long time to come.
Although you are not building new stadiums, the cost escalation in the construction activities has been very high. What are the reasons for this escalation?
The infrastructure required had to be world class. There was always this feeling that we have to catch up with Beijing. It was an unfair comparison but it was always there. It is not only stadiums but a lot of other things which have been built. The flyovers that are being constructed would never have been possible. Look at the flyover across Saleemgarh Fort. It runs parallel to the ring road near Rajghat right up to the Indira Gandhi Stadium. Now this is a fabulous piece of engineering. It is going to decongest large areas. Then we have the Barapullah Nullah flyover right from the ring road up to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.The parking spaces which are coming up are huge. The planning was done several times but we could never implement them. Connaught Place (CP), for instance, is being refurbished. We have wanted to do this for long. But now when we have to showcase a shopping area, then it automatically is CP. Now all this will add to the legacy of Delhi. Delhi will become the proud capital of the country.
Were the changes part of the vision of Delhi or have things been changed to meet the needs of CWG?
No, there are some games-specific changes. There are 15 stadiums which have been refurbished. We have only one new stadium. But a stadium by itself is nothing and all the other facilities that make a stadium need to be provided, which can be used in later years for other activities, including sports. Expenditure has been there but Delhiites and the country will be proud of it.
There is an impression the games have put a burden on the common people and the returns will be small and fuzzy?
As the host government, we have not compromised on anything. If we have widened roads or built the Metro or a flyover, it was required. No doubt CWG is an expensive affair, but let me assure you that not a single welfare programme has been compromised - be it education, health or women's empowerment. So nothing that we have spent is out of the welfare schemes or out of any other fund.
But you don't think the common man or aam aadmi is paying for it through increase in taxation, higher prices etc?
No, I don't agree. What has happened is that with new amenities, say for instance, a metro station coming up in the vicinity, the price of property has gone up. What we have done is to make the collection of taxes more viable now.
So won't the cost of living for people living in Delhi go up?
No, not at all. The CWG is not going to impact that in any way.
Has any money been used for up-gradation of health infrastructure?
Yes, of course. New ambulances will come to Delhi. Whatever services will be provided to the athletes will also be available to the people of Delhi. A block has been added to GB Pant Hospital which would have otherwise taken two more years.
How would you ensure people's participation?
The excitement will surface only around end of August or early September. It is difficult to sustain the excitement for long. Even in IPL it happens only a week or maybe 10 days before.
In South Africa, the build-up for the FIFA has been going on for a year. Like every Saturday they would go to Soweto...
No, we have not done that. As far as CWG is concerned, there is a little bit of scepticism. But I am confident it will turn into patriotic fervour in the end.
How will the Delhi government utilise the facilities after the games are over?
You have touched upon a delicate point. What after the games? In our own stadiums we will start sports training centres. We will look at starting membership clubs and open the facilities to those who want to play. The flats will be put up for auction. That way some money will also come back. Then there is a plan to train our school children. Children will be encouraged to come and play badminton, tennis, volleyball etc. For a small fee even private schools can be encouraged to come and use the facilities. With land being scarce today, most of the schools cannot afford big sports fields.