India is shining at Commonwealth Games that are taking place in Birmingham, England. So far, India has won 61 medals, with 22 gold, 16 silver, and 23 bronze medals. Indian athletes have won medals in weightlifting, lawn bowls, wrestling, boxing, table tennis, para powerlifting, badminton, athletics and more.
Amid the power-packed performance by Indian players, some dark spots of the Commonwealth Games come to mind. In 2010, CWG were scheduled in India. The event, which should have been a milestone for India’s reputation as a host of international sporting events, became a laughing stock following thousands of crores worth of scams.
The scam created a public outcry and paved the way for the exit of the Congress party from the power corridors in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Here is the chronology of the infamous tale of corruption.
A high-level committee was tasked to investigate allegations of corruption
The poor infrastructure and unexplained high price paid for minimal items like chairs, umbrellas and toilet papers led to public outcry over the possible scam. As soon as CWG 2010 were over, the then-Union Government appointed a high-level committee comprising of ex-Auditor General VK Shungloo to look into the matter. The committee was asked to look into all aspects of the CWG organizing committee and report within three months to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Congress politicians at the Centre of the CWG scam
Apart from the high-level committee, the Centre directed the Central Vigilance Committee (CVC), IT Department, CBI, and Enforcement Directorate to conduct an independent investigation. During the probe, it was found that a Congress politician by the name of Suresh Kalmadi was at the helm of the financial scam. Kalmadi, a member of the Organising Committee, had procured Timing-Scoring-Result (TSR) systems from a Swedish company called Swiss Timing.
Investigation revealed Kalmadi paid Rs 141 crores to the firm to buy TRS systems. The amount paid to the company was Rs 95 crores more compared to what another bidder MSL Spain had offered. Interestingly, the bidding for the same was held on November 4 2009, the contract was already awarded to Swiss Timing on October 12, 2009. Reportedly, he, along with his aide VK Verma eliminated the competition in return for kickbacks.
The Arrest of Suresh Kalmadi in CWG scam: First charge sheet was filed in May 2011
Following the revelations made during the investigation, Kalmadi was arrested by CBI on April 25, 2011 for his role in the Timing-Scoring-Result (TSR) case. On May 20, 2011, a charge sheet was filed against him and eight others, including Verma and Organising Committee Secretary General Lalit Bhanot, for criminal conspiracy, forging documents and passing them off as genuine. The charges were added under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and Indian Penal Code Sections 120B, Sections 420, 467, 468, and 471. He served a total of 10 months in jail before securing bail.
The absurd amount of money spent on preparation and purchases
During the investigation, it was revealed that the CWG Organising Committee had paid an out-of-proportion amount for preparation and purchases. The initial estimate for organizing CWG in India was Rs 296 crores but the final amount reached Rs 28,054 crores which was almost 100 times more than the original estimate. Reports suggest that over 100 crores were spent on beautification of roads out of which Rs 30 crores could have been easily avoided as there was no need of importing lights for selected roads.
A lot of items were bought or procured at a very high price. For example, first aid kits were bought between Rs 3,934 to Rs 4,741. Tissue papers were bought at price as high as Rs 1,580 per pack. A water dispenser price was declared as high as Rs 11,852. Apart from this, a pigeon-hole cupboard that was of around Rs 5,200 was bought for Rs 14,400. A bookcase was bought for Rs 7,655 but the original price was Rs 2,840. Stackable chairs were bought for Rs 1,542 a piece but the original price was Rs 720. Interestingly, toilet paper rolls were bought at Rs 4,000 a piece, a price that could have been sufficient for a silver-foiled toilet paper pack.
Rs 30 crores were spent on flower pots. Rs 80 crore bill was raised for dumbbells. Not to forget, a footbridge had collapsed on the last leg of preparation and the Army had to be called to provide logistics to complete it before the games started.
50 cases in CWG scam still pending, RTI revealed in 2020
The cases linked CWG scam are still pending in the courts. As per an RTI filed by the Indian Express in 2020, over 50 cases of payment disputes related to the Commonwealth Game scam still remain pending. The Indian Government had informed that about Rs6.92 crores had been paid by it to the arbitrators as of March 31, 2020. Citing sources, Indian Express reported that close to Rs700 crores worth of contract disputes are yet to be settled.
Furthermore, the RTI said that the 50 cases involved 33 vendors, authorities and individuals. Some of the firms include Swiss Timing (contracts worth Rs 135.27 crore), Nussli India (Rs 140 crores) and Electronics Corporation of India (Rs 346 crores). It must be mentioned the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India had reported that the budget of the CWG had increased from Rs 297 crores in 2003 to Rs 18,532.31 crore in October 2010.
The Government, in its RIT reply, informed, “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.”