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The 2010 Commonwealth Games and crisis management in Delhi April 22, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Dash, Kamala Kanta, India , trackback

Kamala Kanta Dash, Monash Asia Institute, Monash University

With a mission to deliver the ‘Best Ever Commonwealth Games’, the 19th Commonwealth Games (CWG) from 3rd to 14th October 2010 is set to transform many facets of public life in Delhi. The Indian government has prepared a budget outlay of more than Rs.10,000 crore (about US$2 billion) with the aim of turning Delhi into truly a ‘global city’. This makeover includes a massive overhaul of infrastructure, public transport and security services in Delhi. In addition, the Chief Minister Ms. Sheila Dixit has put strong emphasis on changing the public culture of Delhi and has urged Delhiites to behave and be exemplary hosts to all the dignitaries, visitors and guests.

The Union government and the city-state government are readying to cash in on the possible success of the CWG. What has become clear is that the Indian government wants to display its soft power through this international event. However, managing more than 8000 athletes from 71 countries and at least 100,000 foreign visitors will be a daunting task for the organisers as well as the government. Apart from the issue of delays in preparing the venue and related facilities, there is serious anxiety concerning security and crisis management, both of which require urgent attention and effective coordination.

Delhi has had the experience of arranging a mega event in 1982 in the form of Asian Games, but the city has changed drastically in 28 years in regard to demography and the growing international stature of India. The Delhi population in 2009 stands at nearly 18 million, of which more than one-third live in unauthorised colonies and slums. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already warned of an impending health crisis in the city due to the expansion of slums to cater for the new migrant labourers who have come to work at the construction sites of CWG.

In the preparation for CWG, the security issue has been long cited as a major concern for many countries, and the apprehension remains palpable. Sports events being affected by crises such as an outbreak of swine flu or terrorism is too well known to be underestimated. The Lashkar-e-Toeba (LeT) attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team that led to the exit of Pakistan as a host for the upcoming cricket world cup, the 2008 Mumbai attack that led the IPL 2009 to go to South Africa and the swine-flu scare in Melbourne that led to the cancellation of a swimming grand prix in 2009 are just a few examples.

Delhi must remain vigilant to any probable crisis that might disturb this international event. The LeT threat remains unchanged and the ‘live bombs’ recovered in Bangalore recently may indicate that something sinister is underway. Against this backdrop the issue of emergency and crisis management needs to be given a special focus. Two recent incidents – a radiation leak from the scraps in West Delhi and fire in slums in East Delhi – have raised tough questions about the level of overall preparedness.

The radiation leak and exposure to ‘Cobalt 60’ in Mayapuri has injured seven persons and the authorities were caught by surprise. The Delhi government was unprepared to deal with such a crisis and has been slow to recognise the potential danger that these radioactive agents pose to community security. There is now increasing demand to install radiation detection machines on the entry points of the national capital. The news that the Delhi Police is now going to procure at least four radiation meters to detect radioactive materials is indicative of the low levels of preparedness. Secondly, in the last month an increasing number of fire incidents in the capital has killed at least five people, injured more than 500 and gutted more than 1200 hutments, mostly in the slums of Delhi. The fire services have not been able to respond in time. The major reason being cited is the lack of communication facilities in the slums. These situations need immediate attention and improvement of operational ability of the fires services.

Delhi is better prepared for a medical response to a crisis. Delhi has experienced two major terrorist attacks in the last five years – in 2005 and 2008 – and has responded reasonably well, especially during the 2008 September bombings. These attacks have alerted the medical emergency systems in the city, and they will be required to be extremely well prepared to tackle any large scale emergency and crisis situation. The need will be to have major hospitals in the capital on a high alert combined with mobile medical services at the venues to provide emergency support. Recruiting volunteers from the medical and paramedical institutes will be an extremely useful step in this context.

Delhi Police and Delhi Fire Services are well placed to serve the community but will soon need to address their shortages in staff and operational capability. CWG 2010 has provided an opportunity for the government to augment the strength of both these institutions. Yet the responsibility to deal with such crises must not be limited to the Police or the Fire Services only. Crisis is a multifaceted phenomenon, so too its management. Hence, the government needs to bring in medical doctors, support staff, people trained in emergency response and crisis management, and, above all, must train volunteers from the community. The Delhi government is well positioned to build on its globally recognised citizen-engagement program of partnership (known in Hindi as Bhagidari) and strengthen the philosophy and practice of community policing by Delhi Police in order to engage with the common Delhiites to develop mutuality and trust. Crisis management requires the state to actively engage with the community, coordinate with its agencies and take the leadership role. This will require confidence, support and trust from the community.

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