India Insight

India’s Games shame as countries ask for $70 million in outstanding fees

The athletes are long gone, but like the faded posters that are still scattered across New Delhi, the embarrassing legacy of India’s Commonwealth Games rumbles on in a widespread corruption investigation and charges of financial mismanagement by foreign contractors who are reportedly still owed $70 million.

Eight countries, representing 18 private firms, wrote to India’s Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Sports Minister Ajay Maken claiming to be owed $70 million still outstanding from the organising committee, Times Now reported on Saturday.
President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Commonwealth Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi is pictured inside the Commonwealth Games athletes village in New Delhi September 25, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur

President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Commonwealth Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi is pictured inside the Commonwealth Games athletes village in New Delhi September 25, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur
The committee, and its chairman Suresh Kalmadi, a powerful ruling Congress party politician, was roundly criticised in the lead-up to the October 2010 Games for shoddy construction work, missed deadlines and a huge overspend, and has seen members investigated and arrested by the country’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The news of the outstanding payments came as a close aide of Kalmadi, Shekhar Deorukhar, was sent to jail for 14 days custody as part of the investigation into a 6 billion rupee ($133 million) overspend that so far has seen five committee members arrested.

Unpaid foreign contractors used during the Games have repeatedly requested outstanding payments since the Games ended, but organising committee officials have claimed that fees are being withheld due to breach of contract.

Congress looks to seize the initiative as budget looms

It has been a winter to forget for India’s ruling Congress party, as a series of corruption scandals have muted its ability to control parliament, dented its popularity ratings and dappled the formerly dazzling-white kurta of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks during the 11th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2011 organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi February 3, 2011.  REUTERS/B Mathur

But rumours of a deal with the emboldened opposition to launch a parliamentary probe into corruption allegations that would end months of paralysis, and a surprise attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership by one of their former ministers could signal a ceasefire in the war of words and a light at the end of the tunnel for Congress.

TV channels, citing party sources, reported a compromise deal between the warring parties on Tuesday, as Singh announced he would be conducting a broadcasted press conference with the editors of India’s leading news channels on Wednesday, in a move to clear the air over graft allegations and restore confidence in his leadership days before parliament opens on Feb. 21.

Congress’s corruption calamities continue as the Thomas saga unravels

In a season of corruption charges that have shackled India’s ruling Congress party’s political ambitions, the ongoing saga of the country’s tainted anti-corruption chief is perhaps the hardest to believe.

The curious case of P.J. Thomas, the accused fraudster appointed to head India’s corruption investigation agency by the Prime Minister last October, took another twist on Monday to further undermine Manmohan Singh’s party’s ability to tackle graft that threatens to become the overriding legacy of its current term.

India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram speaks during a news conference after a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) interior ministers meeting in Islamabad June 26, 2010 REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

In a fillip for the already emboldened opposition, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said on Monday that the three-man selection committee headed by the Prime Minister that appointed Thomas to the role of Chief Vigilance Commissioner was aware of the pending fraud case against him – but made the appointment regardless.

Karnataka governor’s sanction: Sagacity or political mischief?

File photo of a worker preparing for a rally by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Lucknow, April 4, 2004. REUTERS/Kamal Kishore/Files The tussle between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Karnataka governor Hans Raj Bhardwaj has reached the President’s House with BJP leaders demanding the recall of Bhardwaj.

Could the Governor have avoided sanctioning the prosecution of Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa in the alleged dubious land allotment deals?

In an interview to Hindustan Times, Bhardwaj defended his decision, claiming there are “documented acts of corruption which have cost the state nearly 500 crore rupees.”

Has the judiciary been a let-down?

A view of the Supreme Court building is seen in New Delhi December 7, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur/FilesA former Chief Minister of Karnataka sparked off a controversy in the 1990s by comparing the country’s legislative, executive, judiciary and the fourth estate to four pall-bearers of India’s democracy.

Many would have disagreed with the cynicism the comments displayed, especially regarding the judiciary.

An activist judiciary in the 90s was seen as the moving force behind a range of public-service initiatives.

Will departure of embattled India anti-graft chief end Congress party woes?

India’s Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the country’s federal anti-corruption body, has a self-affirmed mandate to “fight corruption and ensure probity in public life by taking various preventive and proactive initiatives from time to time.”
The Indian parliament on Wednesday approved a $9.8-billion additional spending bill to cover various payments including outstanding government debt, food and fertiliser subsidies, and government pensions. The bill was passed by a voice vote in parliament, a type of vote allowing the government to bypass a three-week deadlock between the ruling Congress party-led coalition and opposition parties caused by rows over a series of corruption scandals. REUTERS/B Mathur
Faced with a windfall of political scandals to investigate, red faces thus abounded at the CVC when media reports showed that its chief, and the highest anti-corruption officer in the country, P.J. Thomas, was himself facing questioning in connection with corruption allegations.

Thomas, who was appointed to the position by the Prime Minister and Home Minister in September despite being implicated in a 1992 palmolein import fraud case while serving in the Kerala state government, on Saturday found himself the subject of strong resignation rumours as the central government desperately seeks to insulate itself from contagious graft allegations

The embattled Thomas has already been stripped of his leadership of a probe into an alleged $39 billion telecoms scam due to the outstanding charges and his tenure as the Telecommunications Secretary during the time that the alleged illegalities took place in the ministry.

Trouble comes calling for the Congress

A man talks on a mobile phone near a hoarding promoting mobile telephones in New Delhi January 20, 2004. REUTERS/B Mathur/Files
Ashok Chavan and Suresh Kalmadi have been let go by the Congress. Who will be next?

The scams laid at the government’s door do not end with the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the war homes scandal in Mumbai.

The opposition and the media, having tasted blood with Shashi Tharoor, Chavan and Kalmadi, now have Telecoms Minister Andimuthu Raja in the crosshairs over the sale of 2G spectrum.

India can now follow the black money

Indians love many things about Switzerland: chocolates, watches, Bollywood movie locales and secret bank accounts.

Until now.

India and Switzerland on Monday signed a pact amending the existing double taxation avoidance agreement, that will make it easier for New Delhi to gain access to information on suspect bank accounts, possibly paving the way to recovering billions of dollars in undeclared wealth.

It is anyone’s guess just how much money is stashed away in secure vaults in the scenic Alps.

No criticism please, we’re Indian

Suddenly, it is not cool to be against the scandal-plagued Commonwealth Games.

A commuter walks past the Commonwealth Games 2010 mascot in New Delhi October 3, 2009. REUTERS/Parth SanyalThe CWG was meant to be Delhi’s big coming-out party, India’s assertion that it is a global powerhouse capable of doing what China did with the Beijing Summer Olympics two years ago.

Instead, the Games, scheduled for October, are turning out to be a costly embarrassment, with daily revelations of corruption, fraud and political wrongdoing that has triggered big headlines and much hand wringing by outraged citizens, sportsmen and even politicians.

But suddenly, being against the CWG is almost unpatriotic.

In an “emotional appeal” with a visual of the Indian tricolour published in all leading newspapers on the weekend, industrialist Subrata Roy flayed the “recent continuous and negative media coverage” that has left organisers and volunteers feeling “totally demoralised and dejected”.

Ramdev: A political force for the good?

Amidst the hustle and bustle of a town dotted with temples and brightened up by saffron-clad “sadhus” or holy men, was a pandal with a thousand people waiting for Baba Ramdev’s daily yoga preaching.

Yoga guru Swami Ramdev speaks during a yoga camp in Haridwar April 8, 2010. REUTERS/Jitendra PrakashAt least 30 million were waiting to start their day with his discourse, through live telecast on an Indian spiritual channel.

Holy man Ramdev, known for popularising Yoga and traditional ayurvedic treatment and also for practising the ancient technique of breathing exercises called Pranayam has been beset by controversies for the last few years.

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