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With less than 200 days for the Commonwealth Games to begin, Rakesh Mehta, chief secretary of the Delhi city government, may have many concerns, but finding accommodation for the travellers is not one of these. In an interview with Ruchika Chitravanshi, he says he expects just about 50,000-60,000 tourists during the Games, just half the 100,000 estimated by the tourism ministry. Excerpts:
What is your biggest concern on the Commonwealth Games?
You are not worried that there is a shortage of accommodation? DDA flats haven’t come up in time. Schools have been approached?
No, I’ll tell you why. Games have been sandwiched between the World Cup Football and then, there is the Athletic World Championship. There are so many international events taking place. Second, this is not the tourist season for Delhi in any case. There was a delay in DDA flats because of the contractor, who has now been changed. The DDA flats should come up by June.
Doesn’t the peak season start in October in India?
It starts during the Christmas time when they get the winter break, then they come into India. Tourists won’t come here to watch netball. They would want to go to Kerela, Kaziranga, Corbett and so many other places.
What is your expectation of the tourist arrivals?
Then, what is the hue and cry about the DDA flats?
The 5,000 DDA flats are for the technical staff. All those people who would be coming with the athletes like the massaging people, physiotherapist, etc would also be staying there. The athletic team has a long tail. For tourists, there are alternative arrangements. Paharganj, Karol Bagh are being done up. There is a bed and breakfast scheme going on. The Delhi University (DU) hostels — like those of St Stephen’s and Ramjas — are being renovated. The youth who come to visit obviously won’t be staying in five-star hotels. They would stay in youth hostels. The hostels would be closed during that period. All DU colleges with hostel would be available.
Schools have also been approached?
Schools which have hostels can make these available. We never expected the guys who come for the Games will be five-star hotel types, hence such arrangements are being made. Beijing Olympics had 25 per cent occupancy. Here, we don’t want to get into a mode where we think a lot of people would come and then we end up with empty rooms.
Hotels have reduced their prices, so it is affordable for a large range of tourists.
That is a market decision. Rates would come down anyway, because we gave them the luxury tax exemption.
What is the total infrastructure spend?
We have calculated a spend of Rs 13, 350 crore. This includes the infrastructure on power and water development, flyovers, bridges, streetscaping volunteer programme, greening Delhi by putting plants. This money has been invested over three years.
Are we overdoing the infrastructure?
We are developing areas within 2 km radius of the sports stadia that we have to do as per our contract with the Commonwealth Games Federation. We are not doing the entire Delhi, we can’t afford that. Around the stadium, all the advertising space that is to be created has to be given to the organising committee to earn advertising revenue. When we are talking of neutral gains, we need revenue. So, around the stadium, there will be advertisements from 1st to 14th of October. Unless we do the streetscaping and create the advertising adjuncts we can’t give them the needed advertising spaces as per the contract.
What would be the legacy of these Games?
One is the power situation. We have signed so may contracts for power, we are building so many power plants. We won’t have any power shortage. That is a good legacy value, if you consider it to be of any value. There is the Dadri power plant. The Bawana power plant will start producing next month.
What is the status of the stadia preparation?
All are ready, except the Velodrome and JNL stadium, the inaugural event venue, and the Syama Prasad Mukherjee swimming pool. All will be ready by June.
What will be the next milestone?
When the Games preparations are over, we would do an intensive drill of all the venue managers, security and transport-related people and volunteers, and also do a dry run on the transport plan. There are different categories — spectators, players, ground staff, volunteers — they all enter at different times.
There are a lot of committees involved in the Games, how often is your interface?
GoM meets every 20 days, Cabinet secretary meeting is every week-10 days. The monitoring committee meets every 10 days, the chief minister takes meetings frequently.
If there is any hitch or anything goes wrong, who is that one person whose head will roll?
Me. So, we are doing inspections everyday. Issues should not be delayed due to lack of decision making. We try to resolve it at the lower level. If we can’t, then we solve it at the higher level.
So, we did the right thing by bidding for the Games?
These Games come once in four years, so if we don’t bid now then when will we? It has enabled us to upgrade the infrastructure after almost 25 years, when the Asian Games took place. We are capable. We are Indians, we’ll do it.