10 years on, CWG mess: 50 payment cases, Rs 40-cr aerostat idle

Written by Mihir Vasavda
| New Delhi |

October 3, 2020 4:15:12 am

On October 3, 2010, the 19th Commonwealth Games got off to a colourful start at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the National Capital.

Fifty pending cases of payment disputes related to contracts. Nearly Rs 7 crore paid by the government to arbitrators. And a showpiece Rs 40-crore aerostat lying unused in New Delhi, despite a request from Sri Lanka.

On October 3, 2010, the 19th Commonwealth Games got off to a colourful start at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the National Capital. But exactly 10 years later, the legal mess left behind by the scandal-ridden sporting event hasn’t been cleared, according to details obtained by The Indian Express under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Responding to an RTI request from The Indian Express seeking details of payment disputes related to the Games, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports said there are 50 cases pending before various courts and in arbitration as on July 27, 2020.

In its response dated September 9, the Ministry did not disclose the total worth of contracts involved in disputes. But it said in another RTI response dated July 31 that it had paid Rs 6.92 crore to arbitrators in relation to different matters as on March 31, 2020.

Officials aware of the situation told The Indian Express that the value of contracts in question is “close to Rs 700 crore”. “Since portions of the contracts, and not the agreements in its entirety, are being challenged, it is tough to estimate the exact financial burden,” an official said.

The Indian Express had filed multiple RTI applications to the Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India (SAI) in July and August, seeking information about the pending cases over payments and current status of items purchased for the Games. The replies were received in July, August and September.

On the aerostat, SAI responded on September 3 that “the material belongs to organising committee CWG but lying at JN Stadium”. The Rs 40-crore helium balloon was used as the showpiece for the opening and closing ceremonies.

When contacted, former organising committee chief executive Jarnail Singh told The Indian Express that Sri Lanka Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was one of the chief guests for the closing ceremony as the nation’s president at the time, had asked for the aerostat.

“Many people were willing to take it, including the (then) Sri Lankan President. We had also offered it to the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) but they were not willing (to take it). So we put it in its container and kept it inside the stadium itself,” Singh said.

Asked for details of payment disputes, the Ministry’s RTI response dated September 9 listed 33 vendors, individuals and authorities involved in the 50 cases, including Customs and Tax departments.

Some of the major vendors listed are Swiss Timing, whose contract was worth Rs 135.27 crore, and Nussli India, which was given a contract of nearly Rs 140 crore for supplying portable cabins, containers, tents and other items for six venues. The list also includes Electronics Corporation of India for a contract approved at Rs 346 crore.

The individual contract amounts were obtained from an audit report on the Games that was released by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in 2011.

In its RTI response, the Ministry said: “Payments are made to the concerned Party(ies) as and when due based on Arbitration awards/Court orders… Interests are paid, if any, to the concerned Party(ies) as and when due based on Arbitration awards/Court orders.”

Apart from the government, the Ministry’s RTI reply shows, one case was filed by a vendor, Premier Brands Pvt Ltd, over a merchandising issue against Suresh Kalmadi who was the organising committee chairman. In 2017, the Ministry dissolved the committee.

According to the CAG report, the committee had “‘purchased/leased 3,302 laptops and desktops for Rs 9.80 crore in several batches during April to September 2010”. Asked about the status of these items, the Ministry said in an RTI reply dated August 6: “A large number of common use technology items like desktops, laptops, electrical equipment etc were transferred to various stakeholders including Ministries/Departments and Govt. Bodies and their present status is not available in the Ministry.”

It said that kitchen equipment procured has been “transferred to the Indian Military Academy” in Dehradun. According to the CAG, the equipment was airlifted from London at a cost of Rs 8.59 crore.

The CAG report had also pointed that the estimated cost of the Games had ballooned from Rs 297 crore mentioned in a Cabinet note of May 2003 to Rs 18,532.31 crore as of October 2010”. The Ministry, however, did not respond to a separate questionnaire sent by The Indian Express on the final bill of the Games — or whether it had any plans for utilising the aerostat.

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