India Tries to Learn from China Olympics

When it comes to infrastructure, Delhi officials say they'll prepare for the 2010 Commonwealth Games by taking lessons from Beijing

The Romans did it first. Now the Englishmen are at it. When the plans were revealed for London's Olympics stadium, a "coliseum-style" setting in east London, skeptics raised eyebrows at the idea. But now, after China managed to break through the $20-billion barrier for this year's Olympics, nothing seems impossible. As a matter of fact, it seems that hosting big-ticket games is the best way for a city to shed its old skin.

According to Chinese estimates, the total amount being spent on sports facilities in Beijing is not more than $2 billion. The number of Olympics facilities being built is also not big. Most of the money is going into renovating faulty infrastructure and creating new ones. So can it be safely assumed that the games are just a catalysts for fast-forward development?

Possibly Beijing is a glaring example of it. Similarly, India's preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games is a case in point. The buzz in the administrative circles is that compared to the approximately Rs 84,000 crore that China is spending for the Olympics, India might foot a bill of not less than Rs 65,000 crore for the Commonwealth Games. And in both cases, the funds are mainly being directed towards overhauling the infrastructure.

Actually, it's not very difficult to decipher why both Delhi and Beijing require such big investments. Beijing's new infrastructure includes some of the world's most extraordinary structures. The brand new passenger terminal at the Beijing Capital International Airport, for instance, is touted to have a floor area larger than all five terminal buildings at London's Heathrow Airport. The Beijing subway expansion plan is also impressive. And the number of the sports facilities constructed for the Olympics, including the National Stadium and the National Aquatics Centre, are also modern and radical structures that could have been only built by state-of-the-art technology. And all these require money.

India, too, is not very far from pulling off a similar feat. Says Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit: "Our officials will go to Beijing. We will definitely implement all good lessons learnt from the Beijing Olympics. However, let me say that we are very much on track for the Commonwealth Games. Thanks to the Asiad in 1982, Delhi already has a solid infrastructure for sports in place. These are being refurbished. Delhi's overall infrastructure is also being upgraded with a deadline of 2010. In addition to better Metro connectivity, we will have 5,000 to 6,000 modern buses plying in the city by then."

So how much is being spent only on sports facilities then? Not much, if official figures are anything to go by. Almost half of the total money being spent will be concentrated in developing new power plants. Sports facilities would not cost a bomb. For instance, for the Commonwealth Games in the capital, it's only around Rs 2,300 crore that will be spent on developing sports facilities, of which Rs 1,000 crore will be spent for the construction of five stadiums. Delhi Development Authority (DDA) will spend Rs 465 crore for developing a Games village and another Rs 850 crore on a public private partnership (PPP) model for building residential complexes within the village.

Compare this to the mammoth Rs 20,000 crore that has been earmarked for the completion of the Metro in the capital. It might look coincidental but Beijing's subway expansion plan also aims to make what was a two-line system into the world's most far-reaching underground network in less than a decade. And it all started with the hosting the Olympics.

Closer home, Vinayak Chatterjee, chairman of Feedback Ventures, says that political and bureaucratic hurdles in the infrastructure sector get mitigated if mega sports events such as the Commonwealth Games are organised. "Today, most of Delhi's infrastructure projects, whether it's the modernisation of the airport, construction of Metro link to the airport, or the Games village—all are linked to the Games. It's a global phenomenon. Such big sports events act as a stimulus for fast-track completion of mega infrastructure projects, overcoming routine political and bureaucratic hurdles," he says.

Well, it's difficult to say what the scenario would have been if India had not won the bid to host the Commonwealth Games. But Delhi, one of the largest cities in India, badly needed the infrastructure improvement. According to official estimates, the capital's population in 2001 was 12.9 million and is estimated to go up to around 17 million this year. This is not taking into account contiguous suburban cities and towns such as Faridabad and Gurgaon in neighbouring Haryana, and Ghaziabad in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh that can push up the official figures to 21 million by this year. Compare this to China's capital city, which is a fast-growing metropolis, where the population grew by almost 16% from 2000 to 2006, reaching around 15.8 million.

Hence, it's no wonder that these two cities—dogged by lack of adequate urban infrastructure—are pulling out all stops to turn common perceptions about them on their heads. And in both cases, facilities are being built at break-neck speed.

Case in point: 2010 has been a deadline for Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC)'s key projects, which they took up in early 2007. In fact, the DMRC will construct around 125 km of Metro rail in Delhi and NCR (National Capital Region) in three-and-a-half years, keeping a strict deadline of August 2010. The lines include ones covering parts of Noida, Ghaziabad and Gurgaon.

Also, the Commonwealth Games drove DMRC to place the 19-km-long airport express corridor—connecting Indira Gandhi international airport with New Delhi railway station—on a fast track. "Some of the lines will be completed by the end of 2009. And the rest of the key projects will be over by August 2010. By that time, Delhi Metro will connect all stadiums and most important pockets of Delhi," says a DMRC official.

Though the cost of event management for 2010 Commonwealth Games has been earmarked at mere Rs 900 crore, Delhi will be a major beneficiary, thanks to the long-term infrastructure projects being undertaken in the city now. This is again similar to Beijing's effort. The main venue for Beijing's Olympic Games—the 'Bird's Nest' stadium—designed by award-winning Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron and Chinese architect Li Xinggang, will be used for a range of sports and entertainment events and other commercial operations after the games.

Though most of the core sector projects currently being undertaken in Delhi are linked to the 2010 Games, the resources for those are organised from sources other than the Games budget. However, the organising committee of the Games has made a provision of Rs 770 crore towards projects such as flyovers, subways and water supply that are direct needs of the Games. What's more, Delhi police will be given Rs 264 cr for beefing up security during the Games.

Adding to the gains list, thanks to the Olympics, Beijing will also join the most advanced traffic management cities in the world. Even in India, efficient traffic management during the Commonwealth Games could be the toughest job. In fact, the Indian city can draw a few lessons from the Chinese experience. An intelligent traffic management system will be available as a scientific instrument for Beijing's urban traffic management and the traffic organisation during the Olympics.

Here's how it works: A total of 126 intelligent road sensors have already been installed in Beijing. These sensors will transmit messages to the traffic signal control system once they detect vehicles waiting in the Olympics lane. Amitabh Bajpai, president of association for intelligent transport systems (AITS) India, says that all Indian cities must have traffic information management & control centre (TIMCC), which generates traffic data and coordinates the city's road network.

"Such a system provides the architecture for the present and future integration of modes of transport and other sub-sets such as emergency management systems (EMS), parking and tolling. The Commonwealth Games could provide a platform for fast-track implementation of ITS," he explains. Delhi is also getting an airport link express bus services soon.

Then, Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) may spend about Rs 150 crore for developing air-conditioned luxury buses to ferry airline passengers from different parts of the city to the airport. It's proposed that passengers will be able to check-in within the bus, and baggage will be taken care of directly. "We will have an MoU with Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) soon. We have set mid-2009 as our deadline so that we have a good trial before the Commonwealth Games," says O P Agarwal, MD, Urban Mass Transit Company (UMTC), where both IL&FS and Central government have stakes.

In hindsight, in both cities, long time after the sports fans have gone home, the extensive renovations, which are taking place now, will form a large part of Beijing's and Delhi's sports legacy. They will not only give a whole new dimension to the sports facilities that these two cities sorely lacked, but might change the future—once and for all. For instance, the green technologies that are being showcased in many of Beijing's new buildings could have an impact on how buildings around China are designed for a long time. This is important since China is one of the biggest polluters in the world.

In the same vein, Delhi's multi-thousand crore rupees makeover might just change the way your kids reach school in the morning. All thanks to sports!

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