Kalmadi once fought in two wars. So how come he has turned into a national embarrassment?

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By Raman Kirpal

SURESH KALMADI, 66 years old and six feet tall, likes to live life kingsize, though he doesn’t smoke or play any sport. He undoubtedly sees himself as a colossus striding the national stage, conjuring up sporting extravaganzas for an awestruck public that should be grateful somebody had the gall and imagination to put India on the map. “I have no time or inclination for small events. Anything big and massive immediately calls for my attention,’’ he proclaims.

The high point of Kalmadi’s career was reportedly his closeness to Rajiv Gandhi and Arun Singh during their heyday but he undoubtedly doesn’t see his low point as the scandal-ridden run-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games. “Don’t worry, we will explain everything to the public,” he told the group close to him this month. All the delays, incompetence and financial jugglery will be forgotten, he believes, once the grand show unfolds on 3 October, a spectacle he says will be grander than that of the 2008 Olympics at Beijing — the city where the president of the International Olympic Committee, Dr Jacques Rogge, gave him the ANOC Award (Association of National Olympic Committees) for his contribution to the Olympic movement and for promoting Olympic sports in India.

KALMADI, WHO built his empire on the good old Congress patronage network, has an unflappable air even now, which goaded Sharad Yadav last week to call him “thick-skinned” in Parliament. At a recent press conference, Kalmadi parried a question on whether he intends to resign as CWG Organising Committee chairman with the complacent reply: “As long as I have the confidence of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, I don’t need to resign.”

Though he lacks the panache of IPL czar Lalit Modi and the brashness of Vijay Mallya, who too dreams of bringing F1 racing to India, what he seems to have in common with them is a go-getting ability and deal-making genius. His success, says a sports administrator once close to him, rests on his ability to gauge the price of the man across the table. But now that the public is talking of “height of greed” and “height of corruption” instead of “height of success”, his entire career has come under scrutiny.

Kalmadi has stayed IOA chief for a decade by setting up 35 federations for obscure sports like tug of war and roll ball, each worth three votes

Pune, which sends him to Parliament, and where a high school is named after his father, is Kalmadi’s home turf. After graduating from Fergusson College, Pune, he went to the nearby National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla and then trained as an air force pilot. He flew fighter planes in the two Indo-Pak wars in 1965 and 1971. By 1977, he was cutting his political teeth in the Youth Congress and in five years he was ensconced in the Rajya Sabha as an MP with the help of his mentor Sharad Pawar. He has been in Parliament, elected three times to the Lok Sabha, for 30 years now. But he did not forget his city, gifting it the Pune Festival and the Pune Marathon, the latter one of the richest international events held every year.

Holier than thou Kalmadi suspended Games joint director Darbari over corruption charges
Holier than thou Kalmadi suspended Games joint director Darbari over corruption charges Photo: PTI

Kalmadi’s personal fortune was built on the self-confessedly biggest Maruti dealership in the country, the Sai Motors chain. He also owns Bajaj two-wheeler showrooms and petrol pumps all over the city. He also owns the most expensive commercial complex in Pune, and lives in a mansion on Dr Ketkar Road in the heart of the city. Another residence on Baner Hills, in his brother’s name, is the lone residence on the edge of a biodiversity park being built by the Pune Municipal Corporation. His brushes with glamour include frequent cocktail parties featuring fashion shows and the Bistro restaurant in Delhi’s Hauz Khas village, run by his wife Meera and socialite Bina Ramani. (The government declared the place unlicensed and sealed the premises five years ago.) Despite these signs of prosperity, Kalmadi declared his assets at just Rs. 10 crore while filing his papers for the 2009 Lok Sabha.

As undisputed king of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for the past 16 years, he seems unfazed by the outrage over the CWG consuming nearly Rs. 28,000 crore, more than the annual education budget. Or about the construction delays and the alleged corruption in awarding of tenders and inflation of costs.

Ironically, though the IOA and the government are both under fire now, they waged a curious battle against each other two years ago. In a petition argued in the Delhi High Court in 2008, the IOA was resisting further scrutiny and claiming itself to be a private body while asking for a further Rs. 1,780 crore from the government. The latter responded with a withering assessment of the IOA’s independent standing, calling it an “assetless organisation” and asking it to be made a public authority, open to scrutiny under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Almost two years later, despite the organisation becoming RTI-compliant, the IOA’s sense of entitlement is only surpassed by its rapacious, unapologetic loot of the treasury. In order to cling on its dubious autonomy, the IOA continues to say that the money given to it by the government is a ‘loan’, one it intends to repay. However, the ‘loan’ is unsecured. This is entirely convenient for Kalmadi & Co., as there is no real price to pay for incompetence. The scams that have been revealed over the past month are entirely predictable in the light of this.

LAWYER RAHUL Mehra, a crusader for accountability in the Indian sporting establishment, won a battle that would ensure that the president of IOA cannot be in the post for more than 12 years. This means that when Kalmadi’s term ends in 2012, he cannot stand for election again. However, Mehra does not believe the ‘hoax’ that the IOA will return the money to the government. “Till date, they have not returned a single penny they have taken from the government,” he says. “We will see new excuses coming out, such as bad publicity before the Games hurting revenue and so forth.”

Even the sources of revenue raise questions about the proposed commercial viability of the project at the time of winning the bid. The ‘lead partner’ of the CWG is Indian Railways and other PSUs such as NTPC and Air-India provide a substantial percentage of the largesse. The myth of multinational corporations vying with each other for a piece of the Games pie stands fairly and roundly busted. Ideally, these PSU sponsorships are an extended loan acting as a facesaver for the CWG.

But the current Games are only part of the IOA’s continuous attempt to milk public funds. In the failed 2014 Asian Games bid, for which the IOA received Rs. 2 crore, bizarre and unrealistic expenses come to light. In an invoice dated 20 December 2006 of the event management company Wizcraft, which is in possession of TEHELKA, a welcome dinner at Kalmadi’s house is billed at Rs. 4.33 lakh. Another farewell dinner at secretary-general Randhir Singh’s house comes to Rs. 2 lakh. The question remains — why was an event management company hired for dinners that were held at private residences? Another Rs. 1.24 crore was spent “towards preparation of final bid to host the 2014 Asian Games”.

Even as recently as 17 August, Randhir Singh pushed for the ‘need’ to bid for the 2019 Asian Games, despite Sports Minister MS Gill stating earlier this month that India would not bid for it. But bids are not about winning and losing any more, as the two failed bids for the Asian Games in 2006 and 2014 demonstrate. More bids simply mean more funds that will disappear into a black hole.

Larger questions need to be asked about the IOA’s status as a body, one bankrolled on government funds, but accountable to no one.

When the Central Vigilance Commission revelations blew the lid off the whole scandal on 29 July, it did not seem that Kalmadi, in many ways the identifiable face of the Games, was personally implicated. But after a series of exposés, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh clipped his wings on 14 August, giving a new Group of Ministers headed by Minister of Urban Development S Jaipal Reddy overriding powers over the OC. More devastatingly for the OC, a Com-mittee of Secretaries was attached to Jaipal Reddy to oversee all the preparations and take decisions accordingly, thus rendering Kalmadi powerless. Manmohan also ordered “thorough investigations’’ saying, “Those found guilty should face severe and exemplary punishment.’’

As of now, Kalmadi has no powers. He will report to the Committee of Secretaries every day till the Games start. But he is still hopeful and is still in media focus. The NDMC building in Connaught Place which houses his office on the ninth floor, is under siege. Scores of television reporters with their flashy vans wait outside the building 24×7 just to get their byte of the day.

Political innings Backed by the BJP-Shiv Sena combine, Kalmadi became a Rajya Sabha MP in 1998
Political innings Backed by the BJP-Shiv Sena combine, Kalmadi became a Rajya Sabha MP in 1998

SURESH KALMADI, with his long innings in sports bodies, is no stranger to controversy. Former Indian hockey captain Pargat Singh has accused him of running a “sports mafia”. But he remains firmly ensconced as president of the IOA, thanks to votes from 35 sports federations you may not even have heard of: atya patya (a game played in Karnataka), bobsled, biathlon, carrom, tug-of-war, croquet, muay thai, roll ball, sepak takraw, tenikoit, trampoline, thang ta and cycle polo. None of these figure in the Olympics yet they determine presidentship of the IOA. Kalmadi has granted recognition to federations promoting these sports and has given each three votes. There are a total of 103 federations, including 35 National Sport Federation and 32 State Olympic Associations.

Now, the Formula 1 Grand Prix is being brought to India by Kalmadi’s family, with his son Sumeer having stakes in the firm JPSK, which signed a Rs. 1,600-crore deal with the UK-based F1 organiser. JPSK acquired 2,500 acres for the project, with 1,000 acres to be used for the race circuit, the rest to be developed as real estate. JPSK’s request for $36.5m to be paid to the F1 administration was refused by MS Gill on the grounds that F1 is not a sport. For the Kalmadis, this was probably just a hurdle that will be doggedly overcome.

There has been a murky stage in his political career too, when he hit a low in 1998 after the Congress gave the ticket to Vithal Tupe, ostensibly on the grounds that Kalmadi lacked a mass base. However, he managed to contest as an independent candidate backed by the Shiv Sena and BJP, despite Bal Thackeray calling him a “con who changes colour every hour”. Before the 2009 election, when the BJP was considering giving outside support to Kalmadi, Thackeray was asked if he had any objections. He retorted: “I have no intention of allowing this to happen. The Pune seat has been allotted to the BJP to field its own candidate. If Kalmadi contests on a BJP ticket, I would hate the idea. But if he stands as an Independent supported by the BJP, the Shiv Sena will certainly put up a candidate against him. We will not accept this kind of compromise in politics.”

Kalmadi’s IOA is a private body. It has taken loans worth thousands of crores from the government and paid back nothing so far

Kalmadi, however, does not stand on principle. Riding high on international networking and his MP status, he seems to have forgotten that public money — he had about Rs. 2,500 crore at his disposal — is not meant to be splurged. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s preliminary report suggests he has been spending it wantonly. Specifically, that 52 out of 53 air-conditioners bought for CWG are lying unutilised. In 2009, he bought 1,000 gift items for Rs. 6.24 lakh but gave only 500 of them to visitors. As oc chief, he set up administrative guidelines that all contracts over Rs. 25 lakh be audited. But he subverted the same rule by awarding contracts to 11 firms instead of one for furnishing the IOA office.

After refurbishing IOA Bhawan at a cost of Rs. 4 crore, he declared the building too small and decided to rent rooms at NDMC. He paid advance rent of Rs. 9.2 crore in May 2008, but shifted only in October.

The stream of charges continues. He is accused of inflating prices of ‘overlay services’ and allotting tenders to favoured firms. More recognisable as the face of the CWG than the mascot Shera, suddenly all the delays and corruption are being attributed to Kalmadi, although examination shows that much of this can be laid at the doors of the NDMC, Delhi Government, CPWD and PWD — for Kalmadi has no direct involvement in construction of infrastructure. The flak has been neutralised by the PM’s intervention, but it will start again from 14 October, after the closing ceremony.

TEHELKA investigations have found a trail of dodgy practices, a bag of dirty tricks used by Kalmadi’s close-knit team, mainly drawn from Pune. These loyalists are joint director general of the CWG Raj Kumar Sacheti (from Alwar, Rajasthan), assistant director general Sangeeta Valenka (from Pune), joint director general VK Verma, a Central Secretariat Service officer and a former director at the Defence Ministry, joint director general TS Darbari and treasurer M Jayachandran, a retired Railway Accounts officer. Darbari and Jayachandaran became sacrificial goats when their services were suspended for their alleged involvement in awarding contracts to AM Films for the Queen’s Baton Relay.

SACHETI, A low-profile accountant, moved from the modest Dev Nagar in Delhi to owning two houses in Green Park. He and his aide RK Kaushik are already under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate. As for TS Darbari, he has been writing frequently to the Ministry of Sports, trying to influence project awards and purchase decisions.

He has given a contract worth Rs.230 crore to Deepali Tent House. They had earlier been rejected by his own officers for over-pricing

Kalmadi’s modus operandi was ingenious: find a foreign firm to act as a partner in crime, then tilt the rules in such a way that no domestic competitor met the requirements. Kalmadi’s killer clause in all the tenders is that the companies making bids should have “relevant experience of working with sports events”. Thus a firm which manufactures generators was disqualified because it had never supplied its products for a sports event. That is why gensets are coming from abroad — so are furniture, treadmills, toilet paper and sanitary napkins.

Each of these foreign firms which have been awarded contracts has an Indian partner. Sources say eventually every product will be procured from India and the foreign company-led consortium will supply it as its own.

The latest is that Doordarshan and foreign broadcasters, who have already landed in India, want to test their equipment, but they are unable to do so because gensets are yet to come from abroad! Kalmadi has selected a multinational company, Pico, along with its Indian partner Deepali Designs and Exhibits for providing gensets, which are priced 10 times higher than those manufactured in India.

But the most shocking sleight-ofhand came when the Ministry of Infor- mation and Broadcasting floated tenders for construction of broadcast compounds in stadia this February. The real cost of the project is about Rs. 50 crore. Kalmadi’s office highly recommended Deepali Tent House owned by a nephew of BJP’s Sudhanshu Mittal, more popularly known as ‘Tentwala’. Under pressure, the ministry shortlisted Deepali among the three companies for the project. But Deepali’s rates being highly inflated, ministry officials tried negotiations to bring down the price. Deepali did not budge an inch. The ministry dumped all three companies to evade pressure and opted for a public-sector undertaking.

As if to compensate, Kalmadi got Deepali a lucrative deal of Rs. 230 crore from the OC for supply, installation, testing, commissioning, operation, maintenance, de-commissioning and removal of CWG overlay clusters. Under the contract, Pico-Deepali’s scope of works includes not only tents but marquees, prefabricated units, portable toilets, containers, security fences, wooden structures, metal structures, furniture, public display LED boards, floor finishes, material handling equipment, gensets, cabling, UPS, aircon, lighting, civil construction, hypoxia machines and athletic exercise equipment.

Tainted legacy The Vits Hotel in Pune, originally meant to be a hostel for the Youth Games
Tainted legacy The Vits Hotel in Pune, originally meant to be a hostel for the Youth Games

Another scam with the IOA at the centre involves hiring of Australian firm SMAM for finding sponsors for the Games. For the 2008 Youth Commonwealth Games held in Pune, SMAM was paid a 15 percent cut on an estimated sponsorship of $30 million. SMAM could get only Coca-Cola on board, but it was allowed to take a cut on sponsors like BSNL and SAIL. For 2010, SMAM was expected to get 23 percent commission even on such in-house sponsors, though it did not bring in a single private one. But when the media trained its guns on Kalmadi, he terminated the contract with SMAM, which has threatened to sue.

The preliminary CAG report finds that Kalmadi arbitrarily hired Fast Track Sales as a consultant for international broadcasting rights merely on the recommendations of Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennel and CEO Mike Hooper. The report says no detailed technical evaluation of the bidders was carried out before approving Fast Track. The selection of a consultant without due diligence and deficiencies in services resulted in a projected revenue loss of Rs. 24.6 crore.

DESPITE ALL the tall claims of administrative acumen, Kalmadi has not exactly covered himself in glory in delivering what he promises. Approval of Delhi as the venue came in 2003. But the CAG report says the plan was finalised as late as August 2007, the project and risk management experts were appointed only in March 2008 and the masterplan finalised as late as November 2008. That’s when it was sent for Commonwealth Games Federation approval. In other words, five years were frittered away. Until July 2009, the OC was still considering the architectural drawings for venues such as the Nehru Stadium. These delays resulted in a rush to finish projects that has made Delhi look like a disaster zone during the monsoon.

The debris and fraud of the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune is a revealing taste of what Kalmadi has in store for New Delhi

Kalmadi has offered a reason for the delay: he was busy with the 2008 Youth Commonwealth Games. But it was he who insisted on holding this event of no sporting significance, which in fact was staged for only the third time in 108 years of the history of the Commonwealth! Instead of Delhi being the venue, Kalmadi hijacked the Youth Games to Pune as the 2009 election approached.

Estranged After a series of corruption scandals, Manmohan Singh has clipped Kalmadi’s wings
Estranged After a series of corruption scandals, Manmohan Singh has clipped Kalmadi’s wings

At a cost of Rs. 1,118 crore of public money, the city was spruced up to win votes and influence people. TEHELKA’s visit to the Balevadi Stadium, which hosted this non-event, revealed that it houses 114 families of Congress workers on the pretext that they have work inside the stadium. Typical generosity at public cost for personal gain.

In fact, the Youth Games offer a revealing glimpse of Kalmadi’s unsporting modus operandi:

• Renovation of stadia appears to be a top favourite. The Pune Administration constructed Balevadi Stadium at a cost of Rs. 500 crore for holding of the National Games. Kalmadi undertook a renovation that was as good as new construction, spending Rs. 318 crore. His man Ajay Shirke, a realtor, was given the contract.

• Construction of a hostel for budding athletes was another trick up his sleeve. The idea was that such players would come to Pune for training after the 2008 Games. But the hostel adjacent to Balevadi Stadium was not ready in time and players were housed in hotels at exorbitant tariffs.

• Then came the double whammy: the incomplete hostel did not serve the cause of sports at all but became a four-star hotel. Land on which no commercial activity is possible because it lies in the green belt is now one more feather in the cap of Vithal Kamat, who has a chain of hotels in Goa and Maharashtra. Kamat has been given a longterm lease for which he pays only Rs. 1.57 crore a year, whereas the market value of this site is no less than Rs. 1,000 crore at prevailing rates, realtors say.

Small change also flows into various pockets in other ways. The 2003 Afro- Asian Games in Hyderabad, IOA’s brainchild, were the first and last ever held. When the then Union minister of state for sports, Uma Bharati, had asked for details of the Rs. 6 crore spent, IOA evaded a reply. Finally, Kalmadi changed the treasurer and fulfilled the formalities.

Kalmadi’s modus operandi was ingenious: find a foreign firm to act as a partner in crime, then tilt the rules to keep Indian companies at bay

The CAG report alleges that various CWG associations were provided hotel accommodation and travel grants to the tune of Rs. 38 lakh, but the OC could recover only Rs. 17 lakh from them. Then, Rs. 1.8 crore was given to fellow sports organisations for conducting seminars and refresher courses. There is no provision for this under the government rules.

Kalmadi is already rich beyond most dreams but old habits die hard. But in sports, his chosen field, once a game is over, somebody leaves the field triumphant, the other defeated. The prime minister has now shown Suresh Kalmadi the red card. Either he learns to play the game by the rules, or the CWG 2010 could be his swan song.

With inputs from Pushp Sharma in Pune, Brijesh Pandey and Vaibhav Vats in New Delhi

THE EVIDENCE SO FAR


The skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard do not all implicate the CWG OC. Here are the ones that do

RENT-SEEKING BEHAVIOUR
The OC wants to rent treadmills for Rs. 9.75 lakh each, claiming they are highquality machines used during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, costing Rs. 29 lakh. It is found they can be bought in Delhi for Rs. 4 lakh each. Chairs are hired at Rs. 8,378 apiece and the rent for a 100-litre refrigerator is Rs. 42,202.

TENDER BENDERS
A Rs. 50 crore tender is floated for printing and 13 firms make bids. Overnight, the tender is cancelled. Kalmadi’s office now cites experience in sports events as an eligibility criterion, eliminating all but two.

PASSING THE BATON 
The OC shortlists three companies as consultants for delivering the Queen’s Baton Relay. PricewaterhouseCoopers quotes Rs. 1.19 crore; Brilliant Entertainment Networks wants Rs. 1.85 crore. Maxxam International quotes Rs. 8.01 crore and gets it.

REALITY SHOW
OC pays £2.5 lakh to a little-known firm in London, AM Films, for hiring mobile video screens. Kalmadi claims Indian High Commission has recommended the firm, brandishing copies of an email sent by the Indian High Commission. The Ministry of External Affairs, however, states that the email was doctored. Kalmadi pleads innocence and suspends Games joint director TS Darbari and treasurer M Jayachandran. Later, it is discovered that Kalmadi himself had signed the papers.

TENNIS ACE
A contract for laying 14 synthetic surfaces at the RK Khanna Tennis Stadium goes to Australia-based Rebound Ace, whose Indian branch is headed by the son of the treasurer of the OC, Anil Khanna. Following media exposure, Khanna resigns.


BRIJESH PANDEY

 

The NumbersOR HOW MUCH WENT WHEREThe facts and figures emerging from behind the official veil are shocking. They confirm the suspicion of a politician-official-contractor nexus siphoning off a lot of money. But not all funds were Kalmadi’s to hold or dispose of — to put the blame at the right doors, the Union Government and Delhi should share the blame


CWG ORGANISING COMMITTEE

Rs. 2,394 crore
This is supposed to be a loan to be paid back to the Central Government. The break-up is Rs. 1,620 crore for conduct of Games, Rs. 687 crore for overlays and Rs. 87 crore for scoring results and renting equipment. It includes commissions paid for bringing in sponsorships and relay of the baton

DELHI GOVERNMENT
Rs. 2,800 crore

This is the largest chunk of money. Rs. 3,700 crore is to be spent on flyovers and bridges, Rs. 3,000 crore on Metro connectivity, Rs. 2,800 on power plants, Rs. 650 crore on widening, strengthening and resurfacing road. New bus depots will cost Rs. 900 crore and improved road signs Rs. 150 crore.

URBAN DEVELOPMENT MINISTRY
Rs. 827 crore 

Delhi Development Authority was to renovate 2,700 flats in Vasant Kunj to three-star level for housing technical staff. DDA engineers have already said that the flats won’t be ready in time. Other projects are the Games Village and an indoor stadium at the Siri Fort sports complex

HOME MINISTRY
Rs. 747 crore 

These funds are to be spent on surveillance, Delhi Police and traffic management. The police plan to buy three bullet-proof armoured vehicles, making Delhi the first Indian city with such fancy machines. Quick-reaction teams, commandos and snipers are being trained to provide security


Brijesh Pandey

Photo: PIB, Naveesh Tejpal,PTI,Indian Express Archive

[email protected]

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