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Dr Singh's message from the CWG probe

By Sanjaya Baru
October 18, 2010 11:56 IST
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In opening a can of worms, is Dr Manmohan Singh saying enough is enough, asks Sanjaya Baru, former media advisor to the prime minister

This is the snub-Kalmadi week. Every storm finds its own lightning rod. But when Vijay Kumar Shunglu, former comptroller and auditor general of India, settles down to investigate whatever he is asked to (the terms of reference of his enquiry into 'irregularities in the organisation of the 19th Commonwealth Games' have not yet been specified), he is unlikely to resort to "scapegoating", as the Americans would say!

Shunglu's career track record as a member of the Indian Administrative Service and, in particular, his tenure as CAG are impressive. Equally relevant to this investigation is how Shunglu spent his post-retirement life. He did not go after corporate cream like many civil servants do these days. He chose to work with Action Aid!

As important as his choice of investigator is the very fact of such early action by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The morning after he went to watch the closing ceremony, his office made public his decision. The decision itself was clearly taken before. If the swiftness, clarity and resoluteness of the Shunglu appointment point to a new mood of Prime Minister Singh, it bodes well for governance in New Delhi. More on that later.

To begin at the beginning, if the job of the Shunglu committee is to probe "irregularities in the organisation" of CWG 2010, the first thing the government has to define is the word "organisation". Will the enquiry be merely into irregularities in the "conduct of the Games", the responsibility of the Organising Committee, or also into the "creation of facilities", which would bring into its ambit at least three ministries of the Union government -- urban development, sports and information and broadcasting -- and the government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi?

Depending on how the terms of reference are drawn up, we would know who the lightning rods would be. Clearly, Suresh Kalmadi, the OC chairman, was not the only person at the top of the mess. A report prepared by the Union ministry for youth affairs and sports very helpfully tells us that Kalmadi only heads the OC which was responsible for "the conduct of the Games".

There were other organising committees -- a "committee of secretaries", chaired by the Union cabinet secretary, charged with the responsibility of "reviewing and coordinating all activities for the conduct of the Games"; an "empowered committee", chaired by chief secretary, Delhi government, "to ensure speedy clearances"; a "venue monitoring committee", chaired by Union secretary for sports, "to review all aspects related to the Games and coordinate activities of different stakeholders"; and, to top them all, a "group of ministers", constituted on September 3, 2004 (hello?!) under the chairmanship of the human resources development minister (remember his name?!) "for coordinating the work related to the organisation of CWG".

Then, we are very helpfully informed by the MYAS booklet: 'Subsequently, on 19th June, 2009, a new GoM has been formed, under the chairmanship of minister of urban development, to review the projects and take decisions as required to facilitate smooth implementation of all activities connected with the Commonwealth Games." Everyone you can think of was a member of this GoM which, we are told, 'discusses, inquires, urges and pushes the OC and various authorities, for timely and efficient completion of their duties'.

Now, what in the view of a former CAG, would all these worthies be seen as being responsible for? For spending a budget that began in millions of dollars and ended in billions? But then, here is how the money was spent: The OC itself spent an estimated Rs 2,394.25 crore on the "conduct of the Games". The MYAS spent another Rs 2,904.86 crore on "preparation of 14 stadiums and other venues". Then comes the whopper -- Rs 16,560 crore spent by the government of Delhi, "preparing Delhi" for the Games.

So, what aspects of the organisation of CWG 2010 will Shunglu look at to see if there have been "irregularities"? Clearly, the Shunglu enquiry can become the biggest anti-corruption investigation in post-Independence history. For the investigation to proceed without hindrance, the heads of all institutions being enquired into should step down till their names are cleared.

But it is not "corruption" alone that marred the Games. There was the incredible "inefficiency and delay" which, in fact, may have contributed more to the steep escalation in costs than corruption. Who is to blame for that?

Apart from the monsoons of 2010, there is the irrepressible Mani Shankar Aiyar. He was happily picking up honours at Oxford and delivering speeches on governance at Harvard in the week of the Games he never wanted, and whose costs went up in great part because of his incompetence and lack of interest. Then there are the many officials, from the high and mighty of babudom down, who were made responsible from time to time to get things done in time and properly, and failed in doing so.

Prime Minister Singh has taken a bold decision to open this can of worms, a veritable Pandora's box. In doing so, he has for the first time in his second tenure in office publicly asserted himself, saying "enough is enough". Many will hope this is the beginning of a new phase in his tenure, when he lets his office, the government, his council of ministers, his party and coalition and the country know that he means business, that the buck stops with him, that his colleagues and officers must shape up or ship out.

Is this Dr Singh's message? "Stop playing games, clean up the mess and get to work!" Many desperately hope so and, if it is, it's a message the nation would welcome.
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Sanjaya Baru
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