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Commonwealth Games - No Bread: All Tamasha "To Repent" Create Special Fund for Poor

By RL Francis

New Delhi: The Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi in October 2010 are "anti- poor", are causing displacement, employment loss to the poor, eviction, and sue of child labour including violation of labour laws. Given the current economic situation, the country would be better off without the games and the money that is being spent could be made available for the poverty alleviation programmes. However, even at this late stage, the organisers have a chance to "repent" if they set aside at least ten per cent of the total budget for helping the poorest families in and around Delhi.

Two Christian human rights organisations- Indian Christian Righteous Action Forum (ICRA) and the Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) have come down heavily on the organisers of the Commonwealth Game and have termed the Commonwealth Games as " No Bread: All Tamasha."

"Is it ethically justifiable for a nation like India, with nearly 400 million people living on one $ a day to host such an expensive event? The massive expenditure on the Games brings to light the priorities of the Govt of India." said Joseph G Anthony, the chairperson of the Forum -ICRA.

More than a million families have already been evicted as a result of Games-linked development projects , while many others - street vendors, Patri bazaarwallas and rickshaw pullers - have lost their livelihoods due to a "clean-up" ahead of the Games. Some 40,000 rickshaw pullers and street vendors, small shopkeepers and food stall owners have lost their livelihood, the press release added. Recent reports in the media that Rs. 700 crore budgeted for hosting the CWG has been massively overshot , to 12 ,000 crore. Some say an unprecedented $6 billion building boom and beautification campaign is going on in Delhi at the cost of poor and underdeveloped rural hinterland.

Some estimates put it nearly 35,000 crore rupees. This massive expenditure on CWG is going to eat away funds allocated for poor, marginalised communities had already been diverted to fund the event. Much of the work is being done by more than 400,000 contract daily wageworkers that have migrated to the city. Many come with their families, including children who are being exposed to hazards, lack proper hygiene and adequate care. Thousands of additional children are on the streets of New Delhi as their parents toil to build Commonwealth Games venues and related infrastructure

Forum- ICRA estimate is that the CWG event has brought an additional 10,000 children into New Delhi. Many live in squalid conditions without electricity or adequate toilet facilities, a common situation for the estimated 150,000 homeless already living on the capital's streets or in its parks.

According to the Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) national president RL Francis, "The claim that the Games are helping to make a Delhi a "world class" city has already been proven wrong", the press release stated. Both organisations have expressed their anguish over the indifference shown by the nation's heartless elected leaders.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit launched an anti-child labour "Time for Change" campaign urging police to proactively take action against the most visible examples of juvenile exploitation, namely those children employed at the city's ubiquitous roadside tea stalls and similar establishments. However, this has no impact on the suffering children.

Local media has drawn attention on complaints that construction of Commonwealth Games' venues are dangerously behind schedule. What is needed on their part is to highlight humanitarian crisis that is looming large. No doubt that the ruling Congress Party would pay heavily forth is neglect of the poor and the marginalized.

The Forum-ICRA and the PCLM have suggested creation of special Commonwealth fund for the poor families and this must be utilised for the food security and healthcare.

At least ten per cent of the total budget of CWG could be placed in this fund for various schemes aimed at helping the neediest sections. This fund must be used to benefit the most distressed yet neglected sections of our society in and around Delhi in the years to come. One area where such funds could be immediately utilised is construction of shelter facilities for the homeless people.

This fund must be over and above the normal fund, which the government provides for the marginalised population or urban slum-dwellers. The Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games will be the largest global sports event ever to be hosted in India. Around 10,000 athletes from 71 nations and territories will compete.

India is keen to put on an international event to match its image as a modernising, emerging economic giant - just as neighbouring China did when it hosted the 2008 Olympics. Authorities say the benefits to the burgeoning metropolis of 14 million people include vast infrastructure development, creation of jobs, increased tourism revenues and a city that will be "clean, beautiful, vibrant and world-class".

"A lot of the infrastructure development which is happening - the roads, flyovers, airports and underground train stations - was part of Delhi's long-term development plan ... the Games just acted as a catalyst and brought forward some of the development," claims Mike Hooper, CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

"All this infrastructure will make it much easier for people to move around ... after all aren't these things that people would want?" But for many of the slum dwellers who were evicted as part of the city's makeover, there is nothing "world-class" about the way they are living now.