While the organizers of upcoming Commonwealth Games 2010 are facing an onslaught of accusations and enquiries regarding the alleged corruption, gross violations of human rights in the Games preparations have back to haunt them.
In a press conference, groups of human rights activists and researchers accused the government agencies of perpetuating human rights violations ranging from labourers’ exploitation to merciless eviction and from forced homelessness to detention of beggars.
Peoples Union for Democratic Rights’ Shashi Saxena highlighted the exploitation of underpaid workers at the CWG construction sites who are working in precarious conditions. Ms Saxena pointed out that the workers at the Games sites are paid only two-third of the minimum wage fixed by the labour ministry.
While the workers are forced to live in subhuman conditions, they are denied passbooks, identity cards, safety equipments, wage slips, weekly offs, and travel allowance for the migrant workers, she added.
Ms Saxena expressed disappointment at the failure of labour laws implementing agencies in protecting rights of poor migrant workers despite High Court’s interm order to implement the recommendations made by its special committee. Questioning the half-hearted attempts to register the workers with the welfare board, she claimed the exercise has not gone beyond tokenism.
Talking about the arbitrary detention of homeless people and beggars, Mansoor Khan from Shahri Adhikar Manch said, “Majority of homeless people, despite being gainfully employed, are labeled as beggars and rounded up by the police. The use of mobile courts has intensified and magistrates are present on the scene and convict the homeless and others under the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act as part of government’s clean up drive. Sentences range from one to three years. In no instance do the arrested have recourse to appeal or legal redress. Even children are separated form their mothers and left to languish on the streets. Street vendors are also being cleared from Delhi’s streets.”.
The issue of large scale demolitions and forceful evictions was also raised by the rights activists. Jawahar Singh of Jhuggi Jhopdi Ekta Manch said that a large number of families have been evicted due to the projects of the Games. They neither received any prior notice nor were there any compensation and rehabilitation by the government.
Dwelling on this issue, Mr Singh told journalists that in the name of beautification of Delhi, state government has evicted thousands of disabled people, widows, vendors and construction workers. He expressed concerns over the future of 44 slum clusters which the Delhi government has identified to demolish in run up to the Games.
The issue of human trafficking and prostitution — feared to proliferate during the CWG — was also touched upon in the press conference. Rashmi Sinha from an NGO Apne Aap Women World Wide mentioned the disturbing fact that brothel owners and escort agencies have already begun to traffic young girls from cities such as Mumbai, Pune, Goa and Bangalore, Punjab, Haryana, Northeast, Himachal Pradesh and even Eastern Europe to Delhi.
Ms Sinha said the two actions by government authorities – a code of conduct prepared by the Tourism Ministry for hotels and tour operators and the establishment of condom vending machines at sports sites – cannot protect young women who have been brought into Delhi as migrant labour for construction of roads, stadiums and houses for the Games. These women will be easy targets for the sex industry once their contract is over. Ridiculing the government’s action, she said condom machines can only be a poor substitute for their right to safety from sexual exploitation.
Ms Sinha appealed to the President of India to not allow the CWG to become a pimping opportunity for the sex industry.
Paul Divakar from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) talked about diversion of funds from the Scheduled Castes Sub Plan (SCSP) to the Commonwealth Games. He stated that these funds are supposed to be non-divertible and non-lapsable.
Mr. Divakar stated that the denial of the diversion by the Chief Minister of Delhi is incorrect in the face of overwhelming evidence and government data. He also asked, “With a clear and visible diversion of funds, how does the Planning Commission approve these state plans, year after year? What are the monitoring and review mechanisms? Who is to be held responsible for the diversion and denial of funds under this progressive and innovative programme?”
Shivani Chaudhry, of Housing and Land Rights Network highlighted irregularities in financial disclosure and problems of accountability and governance due to the lack of a centralised monitoring agency for the Games.
“There is a continuous deception of the public in the name of the Games. Competing facts and figures are being proclaimed, even in Parliament. Despite filing several RTI applications, clarity on the total cost of the Games is missing. Apart from a negative social legacy, the Games are likely to result in a severe economic legacy and national debt that will take a long time to repay,” she alleged.
The activists stressed that while the concerned agencies must pursue the corruption allegations and probe and investigate the guilty officials, the broader and more severe impacts of the CWG on the people of Delhi must not be ignored. They demanded that concerned government agencies must act responsibly to ensure that there is an immediate halt to the ongoing violations. They demanded an immediate halt to evictions in Delhi, and payment of adequate compensation and rehabilitation for the already displaced families, immediate implementation of the recommendations of the special committee and interim orders of the High Court on labour issues at CWG sites.
They also called for investigations by the Central Vigilance Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, and relevant Parliamentary Committees, into the issue of diversion of funds from the Special Component Plan for the welfare of Dalit families in Delhi and immediate return of appropriated funds to social sector and development projects in Delhi.
The demand was also made for Commonwealth Games authorities to set up information, surveillance and support centres at the popular sex sites like GB Road, railway stations, bus stops, airports, and metro stations, and make provisions for young women to go back home safely, including providing tickets.
Miloon Kothari, former Special Rapporteur for UN and Executive Director of Housing and Land Rights Network expressed grave concerns over the flagrant violation of human rights in the city.
He said, "Even if Commonwealth Games turn out to be a success miraculously, it is evident that serious human rights violations are taking place...Delhi is becoming an apartheid city. The prime minister should intervene and some of us feel it is not too late even to call off the Games".