The centre of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam has shifted from Suresh Kalmadi to Sheila Dikshit, the high-profile Delhi Chief Minister who brought the Congress electoral victory three times consecutively in the capital.
And it's not only because the BJP is demanding her head in return for offering BS Yeddyurappa's in Karnataka.
Two reports on the conduct (or misconduct) of the Commonwealth Games - one by VK Shunglu and another by the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) - have shifted the spotlight from Kalmadi - who was merely running the Games as chairman of the Organising Committee - to the people who actually controlled the big bucks in CWG spending: the Delhi government and Sheila Dikshit.
The Delhi government's share of the CWG Bill was a massive Rs 16,560 crore on eight city projects.
The crux of the accusations made by Shunglu and the CAG are similar: the Delhi government overspent and wasted money not merely through poor oversight, but by manufacturing an artificial crisis of deadlines by delaying the start of CWG-related projects almost till the very end.
There are three reasons why Sheila Dikshit cannot escape her share of the blame.
Point 1: Dikshit, as head of the Delhi government, clearly bears constructive responsibility for backloading the award of projects. Hear Shunglu on this: "A period of seven years was available to prepare for the Games. The first three years were squandered in peripheral activity, thereby compressing the time available to four years. In disregard of time lost, activity picked up belatedly and reached a feverish pitch so near the Games that most actions became 'emergency' decisions, compromising cost and quality."
The CAG makes more or less the same point: It blamed the Delhi government for bad planning in the investments made in street-scaping, road signages and beautification projects, which were "ill-conceived."
"The project was largely a consultant-driven project, with the selection of consultants being arbitrary and non-transparent, and without any common design guidelines and targeted budgetary estimates. ...This resulted in (the) adoption of richer specifications in an arbitrary and inconsistent manner in different packages. We found the average awarded works for street-scaping and beautification works of Rs 4.8 crore/km to be exorbitant, with total estimated wasteful expenditure of more than Rs 100 crore," the report said.
So far, this looks like a lower-level goof-up or even the traditional mismanagement that accompanies every public project. But that ain't so.
Point 2: Somewhere in 2008, soon after Sheila Dikshit led her party to another victory in Delhi, when work on the 2010 CWG had barely begun, Dikshit directly entered the picture. At the point when decisions were to be taken on street-scaping, road signages, horticulture and purchase of a new fleet of buses, Dikshit took away the sanctioning powers of Finance Minister AK Walia in CWG projects costing over Rs 100 crore. (Walia refused to comment on this issue when Firstpost asked him about it.)
Surprise, all CWG projects cost more than Rs 100 crore. (Refer to table below for details.)
The Delhi government spent Rs 1,800 crore on the augmentation of the Delhi Transport Corporation's bus fleet, Rs 900 crore on the construction of a key bus depot (and some upgradations at other depots), Rs 650 crore on strengthening and resurfacing roads, Rs 525 crore on street-scaping and Rs 150 crore on road signages. Dikshit had a direct say in these investments once she took away the decision-making powers of the Finance Minister.
Point 3: There's little doubt that Sheila Dikshit must share the blame for the delays in CWG projects, for which Shunglu has castigated the Delhi government for lack of planning, ad hoc selection of projects and inadequate preparation. Reason: As early as 2003, when she was re-elected as Delhi CM, she had announced the Delhi government's commitment to provide upgraded infrastructure for CWG 2010. She said that about 74 infrastructure projects were already in the pipeline.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, chairing the first meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers on 25 October 2004, decided that the Delhi government would set up a committee headed by the Chief Secretary to coordinate all Games-related activities under its charge.
But Dikshit constituted the committee, called the Empowered Committee, only two years later in 2006! But even then CWG preparations did not pick up, because the state government had meanwhile got into preparations for a more important event than CWG: the assembly elections in 2008.
What this review of dates and events suggests is that Sheila Dikshit was directly responsible for delaying CWG projects which led to the rush for awarding contracts in the last two years.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which has registered several preliminary investigations into CWG projects, has not found any 'criminal intent' in any of the bigwigs involved, including Delhi Lt Governor Tejinder Khanna and Chief Minister Dikshit.
While the Shunglu Committee has already indicted them for causing heavy losses to the exchequer, the CBI has gone after the small fish. For instance, the CBI mentions only the Public Works Department's Executive Engineer in the FIR filed in the Barapullah flyover scam. PWD Minister Raj Kumar Chauhan (who was in charge of the project) and Dikshit (who cleared the Barapullah project) are not mentioned.
The CBI has filed 12 FIRs in the CWG so far. There is an FIR in the street-lighting case as well. The FIR only mentions a few Municipal Corporation of Delhi officials, who executed the project.
Dikshit's sins of omission or commission are now beginning to catch up with her.
Table showing the total expenditure by the Delhi Government