Already caught up in cost overruns and delays in building sporting venues, Indian organisers of this year's Commonwealth Games are now embroiled in allegations of corruption.
Last month, the Central Vigilance Commission, an anti-corruption watchdog, released a report claiming corruption worth about 20 billion rupees (Dh1.59bn) had been observed in 16 projects from the Games, which begin in October. The report alleged: financial dealings were undertaken with discredited companies without proper legal paperwork; bidding procedures in several instances were bypassed; and payments made for renting out some sporting equipment were unjustifiably higher than the market rates.
The organising committee of the Games, led by Suresh Kalmadi, sacked two high-ranking officials last week on allegations of financial impropriety. The treasurer of the committee resigned after allegations that he used his influence to grant a 10 million rupee contract for preparing tennis courts to an Australian company linked to his son. Calls are growing for a detailed investigation into Mr Kalmadi's possible involvement in the alleged scandals.
But the chairman of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee has said he was open to scrutiny, even by the judiciary. "I, as chairman of the organising committee, am prepared to face any scrutiny by CAG [comptroller and auditor general] or even a judicial probe for all financial transactions being reported," Mr Kalmadi said in a statement. "All the people found guilty will be punished and brought to book."
The watchdog's report said: "Almost all the organisations executing works for Commonwealth Games have considered inadmissible factors to jack up the reasonable price to justify award of work at quoted rates, citing urgent circumstances. "Despite higher rates, poor site management, delays and quality compromises have been observed." India, which won the bid to host this year's Games seven years ago, is only the third developing country to be given the opportunity after Jamaica in 1966 and Malaysia in 1998.
This event means to India what the 2008 Beijing Olympics meant to China, or what this year's FIFA World Cup meant to South Africa - a marquee event to display the country's impressive economic ascent and its growing clout on the world stage. The host city, New Delhi, a metropolis of 14 million, is in the middle of an unprecedented construction boom in a bid to become a world-class city before the opening ceremony on October 3.
But with each passing day, allegations of corruption worth billions of rupees come to light, leading the Indian press to dub the event the "corruption-wealth games". The cascade of allegations has damaged the credibility of organisers to such an extent that corporate sponsors are now shying away from the event. So far, only 3.42bn rupees from 10 sponsors has been collected, far below the target sponsorship of 12bn rupees.
Organisers say they are in desperate need of cash to offset cost overruns. In 2003, when India won the right to hold the Games, it estimated the cost would be 18.99bn rupees. But the expense has since risen considerably. With an official infrastructure and organising budget of 100bn rupees, these are poised to be the most expensive Commonwealth Games in history. Independent experts estimate the cost to be more than 300bn (Dh23.92bn) rupees. The 2002 Games in Manchester cost £800m (Dh4.65bn) and the 2006 Melbourne Games cost more than A$1bn (Dh3.36bn).
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) last week turned down a request by Games organisers for a grant of US$22m (Dh80.8m). In June, India's union-heavy industries and the public enterprises ministry sent a circular to a number of public sector companies urging them to "contribute" to the Games. The event is of "great national importance", said the letter written by Vilas Rao Deshmukh, who heads the ministry. It would be appropriate for "our public sector undertakings to contribute their share so that the games organisation and management scales new heights".
Last week, after corruption charges made headlines, Indian Railways, a public sector enterprise that pledged a 1bn rupee grant to Games organisers, wrote to Mr Kalmadi asking for details of how the money was to be used. Before it signs a memorandum of understanding with the organising committee, Indian Railways has demanded a written assurance from Mr Kalmadi that none of its money would be used to pay commissions to Sports Management and Marketing (SMAM), an Australian company hired to find Games sponsors.
The National Thermal Power Corporation, a state-owned enterprise, also wrote to Mr Kalmadi seeking similar assurances. SMAM's deal meant it would take 23 per cent of all contributions made towards sponsorship for the Games. But last week, the organising committee terminated its contract with SMAM citing "non performance". The New Delhi non-governmental group Housing and Land Rights Network claims the government had diverted 7.44bn rupees to the Games from social schemes meant for India's poor scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
Opposition parties were quick to jump in. "The idea [of the Games] is to create common wealth, infrastructure ? to enhance the prestige and image of the country," says Venkaiah Naidu, the vice president of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. "But unfortunately, some people of the ruling side seem to be converting common wealth to individual wealth and trying to misuse resources." Sitaram Yechury, a member of the Communist Party of India, alleges the cost of renovating some of the Games stadiums has been artificially inflated by organisers.
Mr Kalmadi has not responded to the charge. Observers also question other transactions. For instance, the decision to hire without any contract AM Films, an unknown British company, to provide taxis, portable toilets and other facilities for the Queen's Baton Relay, which started in London last October. Mr Kalmadi said the organisers were running late and there was no time to write up a formal contract.
The British government claims at least £25,000 paid by the organisers to the firm is unaccounted for. email@example.com