Whether it's Beijing or Vancouver, it seems that big-ticket developments for "the big games" can be smoke-and-mirrors operations for shipping out 'undesirable' populations (the poor, mentally ill or homeless persons) or conveniently sidestepping public accountability (sure, the 2010 Vancouver are going green, but take a look at some of the accusations of "corporate welfare" being leveled against the massive project).
In the case with Delhi's 2010 Commonwealth Games, there is a lot at stake here: it is India's first time to host the games, and expectations for a big debut are running high as more sponsorships and funding are being funneled toward athletes and development alike. There have been promises to make it green. But as with other Games, the "green" promise may be a diversion from the ground realities: to banish any unseeming poverty, evictions have begun and on top of that, there is concern that the planned games infrastructure may actually have a negative environmental impact, focusing on the intended site of the Games Village.
Luxury apartments to be used for 10 days by athletes
In the next two years, Delhi's government will irrevocably alter 118 acres of formerly protected public lands on the ecologically-sensitive floodplains of the Yamuna River, in order to build "prestige projects" and luxury apartments that will house athletes for a mere 10 days, to the tune of Rs.1.8 to 4.2 crores each (1 crore = 10 million or US $387,000 to 903,000).
The US $114m Delhi Games Village itself will occupy 27 acres and will house 8500 athletes for less than two weeks. Built under a "public-private partnership," the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) provides the land, while a real estate developer will construct the complex — with rights to sell two-thirds of the apartments after the Games. Plans are in place for another developer to build a Delhi Metro line to connect the village with the rest of the city, along with an on-site shopping mall.
Plans for a canal to restrict Yamuna?
In the name of "riverfront development," Delhi's government seems to be going against numerous environmental impact studies and recommendations to leave the river floodplains alone. The Yamuna herself is fed by melting snows of the Himalayas, while the catchments of the floodplains act as a drain for the annual monsoon rains. Moreover, environmentalists point out that the Yamuna floodplains play a critical part in recharging the ground water aquifers of Delhi, which is already experiencing water shortages and a declining water table.
So what does this really mean in the greater scheme of things? This plan to develop the Yamuna's banks may be a revival for earlier plans to build a canal, but it could also be an expedient way to comfortably house high-ranking officials, writes Indian researcher Kannan Kasturi:
"Just over a quarter century earlier, an exclusive residential complex was built in the name of housing the participants of the 1982 Asian Games in a green expanse that reportedly contained archaeological structures associated with the 14th century Siri Fort. The ultimate beneficiaries of this 'games infrastructure' turned out to be high officers of the government and public sector companies who occupied 70 per cent of the flats built. This time around too, it will not be a surprise to find some of the top hats of the bureaucracy in the apartments retained by the DDA."
Related Links on Delhi's Games
Delhi cleans up for Commonwealth games but leaves locals without sporting chance (Guardian)
Pachauri won't head Commonwealth Games ecology panel
Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010: A Threat to the Common Wealth
Delhi looks to 2010 (BBC)
Commonwealth Games in Delhi 2010 (site)