Monday, October 4, 2010

CWG Delhi : The price of hubris

CWG Delhi 2010 : What an amazing ceremony!
image from http://asset.ninemsn.com.au/

Shows us what all is possible when you're ready to go 10x over-budget and wipe out the taxpayer money meant to fund schools, hospitals, roads, food provisions in the poorest areas of the country and divert it all into a gala event to keep the middle class pre-occupied in visions of grandeur while indebting the country forever! Totally worth it, man! I'm proud to be Roman.. sorry, Indian!

Sorry for the sarcasm, but I'm not about to sacrifice my position on the matter in exchange of some eye candy.
Gareebon ki thaali se chheen ke tum naye kapde khareed laaogey, toh kya hum tumhe duaayein dein?
Translation : If you steal from the plates of the poor and buy fancy clothes, do expect me to bless you?
I don't know where I've heard this dialog, but it just swam up to my head and seems so pertinent. I just cannot, in good conscience, go along with the flow here. There are some times in life where you have to draw the line. This wikipedia article would be good for the uninitiated. Let me try to explain (if that were possible) the situation here. I hope you like analogies!
Starting off with the pride factor: Analogy 1: Comparative nationalism | Keeping up with the Sharmas YES, I know we now have had a great event, "for the good of everybody", the pride of our nation, a showcase to the whole world, and we have shown even China that they're not the only ones who can have awesome opening ceremonies.
"Listen, ji, the Sharmas got a Skoda. Now we must get a Mercedes to show them that we are better than them!"
Comparative nationalism is good within a limit. The only problem is, at a scale such as this, we cannot really know what that limit is.
"I don't care if we are blowing away Chotu's college money. There's still lots of time for that! But we have to buy ac AC bigger than our neighbors! Why do we need it? My God, you have no civic sense or what? If we have a party, do you expect the guests to stand in line in front of the cooler?? What will they think of us? All the other popular ladies in the colony have got ACs and they have such nice parties at their place. We have to show them all we are also advanced! Take a loan if you must, but this is a question of our house's honor!"
Yep, it's all about our nation's honor, glory, prestige, blah blah. To show "the world" where "we stand". I understand your sentiments. Seriously.
"Now the whole colony will know that our house is the best of the lot!"
Question : Does the rest of the world really give a damn?
Neighbors: "Oh, nice place they got." "Yeah, it'll be good for parties now. So what happened at the office today?" "Oh, you're not going to believe this! The new girl I'd told you about? Guess what..."
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Now moving forward to the wild run-up to the CWG: (this is going to be tough... 3 cases to compare)

Analogy 2: CWG work completed | Pappu pass ho gaya! | Website is up!
After burying the uncomfortable reports that were popping up of CWG going way over-budget, I'm thankful to the Media for distracting us all on a brilliant wild goose chase of collapsing roofs, overbridges and unclean accommodation. Truly "breaking" news!
Pappu's mummy: "We put in a lot of time and resources to get the best study material and the best tuition for Pappu, as we wanted him to score 100% in the engineering exams! We spent 10 times as much as originally planned, but it was worth it. We bought him a bike, gave him whatever money he needed for his extra classes (?) without bothering him with silly questions, made sure no expense was spared. But just a month before the exams, Pappu failed in his pre-finals, and his project-work was still incomplete! Oh God, how could this happen?
Your team is given a project to make a new website. It's not a big deal to just make sure you are at par with the competitors' websites, and you know the client will be dissatisfied especially since you went 10 times over budget to do the same thing. But if your client is ignorant enough, then simulate some website crashes and crises just before the launch.
And now, some amazing news just in : Guess what! The CWG work has been completed on a war footing! Games Village is excellent now! Army had to be called in,but the bridge is back up now! All right!! Way to go, guys!
Pappu's mummy: "Now it was do or die situation, we had to force him with last-minute preparations, complete his project work for him. We burnt the midnight oil, but finally it all paid off, and the exam results are out : Pappu has passed! Pappu pass ho gaya! Whew! Yay! This calls for a party!"
Now you bravely work against the clock and rescue the website and put off a disaster! The client is relieved and then amazed with your great work and super dedication to the project! You might even get a bonus!
By first showing us the prospects of a terrible disaster, followed up with the emotion of last minute relief, they have now amplified our sense of pride and accomplishment with the grandeur of an opening ceremony that was but predictable and to be expected with the huge budget thrown at it. Disclaimer
Pappu's classmate : "But didn't you originally plan and spend for him to top the exam? Now you're just happy he's passed!" Pappu's mummy: "Shut up, you good for nothing! You have no manners? Don't you dare say anything about my Pappu!" Pappus's classmate, grumbling: "I was talking about you..."
Of course, no need to mention that you're the ones who had screwed the site up in the first place. Just pocket the compliments and walk away!

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And finally, on the conveniently forgotten issues of expenditure:
Sorry, but I couldn't find any analogy for something this stupidly obvious.

Rs. 70,000 crore did not get generated out of thin air. If it did, that means we have to start thinking about how to pay it off, ON TOP of the regular expenditure that the national treasury struggles to take care of anyways.

We were initially not told of the final costs - it was incremented gradually in bits and pieces - basically we paid a down-payment thinking it was the full amount, and then unexpectedly had to fork over the EMI. Whenever a question was raised, the asker was accused of getting in the way and trying to play spoilsport of a national priority project.

Check out a detailed report here: Aug 28, 2010: OC had no idea of actual cost
Another: April 07, 2010: CWG budget for 5 stadia up almost 250 percent
They're not even sparing us in the final rush: Latest CWG goof-up costs Rs 1.3cr
Here's a damning expose of what has gone into the stadium where our magnificent opening ceremony was held: 'Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels' is no longer a mere quote

If you "sell" a posh new Mercedes, to a middle class family without telling them they've only paid the down-payment and the EMI will come later, they might be happy for a week or two. Then the money for the fuel may run out and they won't be able to use the Mercedes anymore and it will just sit there.
And then the loan repayments will start to hit and you will ensure that that family will lose everything.

We were never told about the real costs. Had we been told that, we would never have allowed this whole thing to even get off the ground. In the coming years, you are going to see many other countries showcase even better events for fractions of the cost that we have spent.

And forget about sporting events. As rightly quoted in the link above, entire industries providing lifelong jobs to thousands of people would have been set up in this much money.

More alternatives:
1. We could have installed solar panels across the nation and gotten rid of India's CO2 emmissions concerns forever!
2. We could have put it into micro-financing like Grameen or RangDe and taken the entire nation out of poverty (and the entire amount would have been returned to our coffers in a year! Micro-finance has the highest return rate on the planet : 99.9% !)
3. We could have boosted the country's defence and REALLY shown China that we're a force to reckon with!
4. Just take a look : This thing has cost us more money than India's entire education budget. Which means with this much money invested in education, we could have doubled the number getting educated - at all levels in India. Or we could have funded the higher studies of lakhs of bright but economically backward students all over the nation!
5. We could have completed the ambitious nation-wide river-linking project and eliminated flood and drought risks in India for good! (Delhi nearly came to getting flooded herself - now think!)
6. We could have replicated the Delhi metro in cities across India!
7. We could have established a permanent base on the Moon - Chandrayaan-1 cost just some 200 crore.
8. We could have completely turned around the Naxal-hit areas and by social and economic justice instead of force, solved India's Naxal problem (I won't call it a threat because these people are impoverished and fighting against industrialists invading their lands; they do not threaten areas outside their homeland.)

Can you honestly swear and tell me that the CWG was more necessary for India than all of the above?

Am I being pessimist? No. I'm only being a realist. When you have a limited amount of money to spend, your bare essentials come before long-term aspirations, which come before short-term luxuries. And let us not forget that true creativity and innovation comes when you remove a zero from your budget - not when you add any. We have just put a thing of the least priority, at the top.

The money that was spent here, was spent by taking away from the money that was meant for several other NECESSARY projects. We have blown a large sum of money on an OPTIONAL thing by stealing it from NECESSARY things. Get it? That money isn't going to come back now. Those NECESSARY projects - schools, roads, hospitals - are going to have to be ABANDONED in the coming months, because the treasury will say "sorry, insufficient funds. Please adjust."

For a people who are world-renowned for their bargaining power, it seems that we have all been, well and truly, hoodwinked.

This is what we have just done to our country. So let's all be proud of the accomplishments of our generation - the generation that gave up its humility and its principles in exchange for hubris. And I pray that we don't forget this when it becomes history; or history will surely forget us.

Further reading: 04 August 2010: Commonwealth Games: Scary daredevilry of the corrupt

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