By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, Sep 2 (IANS): Sceptics wrote it off as an organisational disaster and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to make a personal intervention, but the Oct 3-14 Commonwealth Games that will bring together 71 countries and participating teams to the Indian capital is on its way to being the "best ever", promise the organisers.
Even so, with India hoping that the Games, the biggest sporting event in this country after the 1982 Asian Games and which will feature 17 disciplines, will showcase to the world magnificent stadia, foolproof security and modern-day transportation systems, officials at the very top admit that there could be a last gasp to the post and many facilities would be ready just days before the event.
With a month to go, questions are being asked about delays in the completion of Games projects, cost overruns and questionable deals that have attracted adverse media attention. However, the Organising Committee (OC) says it will put up a great show at the event, for which the Indian government has allocated Rs.15,000 crore (Rs.150 billion/over $3 billion).
In a bid to dispel the pessimism around the Games, Manmohan Singh on Sunday visited the centrepiece Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies and the athletics events, and asked officials to "redouble their efforts to quickly complete" the work as people "expect a spectacular" opening to the mega event.
The prime minister's visit to the stadium came two days after Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, who has often promised the "best ever Games", admitted that the Aug 31 deadline for completion of all CWG-related projects would not be met. But she also said the city would be ready at least 15 days before the Games start Oct 3, "provided the sun shines and the rains stop".
The Games OC brushes off the scepticism and says it is confident of hosting a "great" event.
"In the last one week I have been to all the venues more than once and after seeing the facilities, I have no hesitation in saying that we would deliver a great Games," OC Vice Chairman Randhir Singh told IANS.
"The 11 senior IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officers who have been sent to help the OC by the cabinet secretary are extremely helpful and they are going about tying up the loose ends systematically. Their presence has boosted confidence of the Games' workforce," he added.
OC Secretary General Lalit Bhanot, too, was highly optimistic about organising the Games in a perfect manner. He said the venues would impress with facilities that were truly world class.
"As secretary general I can speak on the technical conduct of the Games. And I have little doubt that we would be doing an excellent job as most of our officials are well versed with international competitions. Don't forget, we have the experience of conducting a whole lot of international events after the 1982 Asian Games," Bhanot told IANS.
With a month to go for the Games, he said he was more than happy with the way things were shaping up even though the active monsoon had made things a little difficult in completing the infrastructure.
Infrastructure apart, Delhi is being beautified with at least six million ornamental potted plants. Besides these, planting is under way in roadsides, roundabouts and other vacant areas, making New Delhi, one of the greenest cities in the world even greener.
Thus, around the city, officials and workers are racing against time to complete all Games-related projects -- landscaping, plantation, beautification, parking places, foot over-bridges, roads, renovating markets, hotels and buildings -- to make the capital look like "a world-class city".
Security has been a major international concern, but India's internal security department has assured participating countries that it will be a "safe and secure" Games.
"We are fully prepared for the mega sporting event. Our force is trained, ready and positioned and I am fully satisfied about the preparations for the mega event," Delhi Police Commissioner Y.S. Dadwal told reporters here Monday.
Apart from around 80,000 Delhi Police personnel, over 17,500 paramilitary personnel, 3,000 specialised commandos and 100 anti-sabotage check teams, besides a 123-member dog squad, will be deployed across the city. Delhi Police has also procured armoured vehicles and has formed a special commando force to ensure that the event passes off without any trouble.
The Games will feature 17 disciplines to be held at six venue clusters and five stand-alone stadia in the metropolis of 17 million people, one of the most crowded in the world.
Apart from the Nehru stadium, the other venues include Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, Indira Gandhi Sports Complex, Delhi University Sports Complex, Thyagaraj Stadium, Siri Fort Sports Complex, Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range, Talkatora Stadium, SPM Swimming Pool Complex, R.K. Khanna Tennis Complex and Yamuna Sports Complex, as well as the Full Bore Shooting Range in suburban Gurgaon.
The sale of tickets started in June and 1.7 million tickets are expected to be sold before the Games begin.