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6 Oct, 2010 03:53

Commonwealth Games in not-so-wealthy India spark controversy

The largest sporting event ever to have taken place in India kicked off this week, as billions have been spent on staging the Commonwealth Games.

Further, the president of the International Olympic Committee says India has set a solid foundation for a future Olympics bid.

But in reality, everything does not seem as straight-forward as the authorities would have the public believe.

Across Delhi, billboards showcasing the Commonwealth Games have sprung up in an effort to hide the city's poverty.

However, the reality of life in the slum of Vasant Vihar is far from invisible – as is the level of contempt for what politicians are doing to its 2,000 residents.

“The government considers us ‘dirty’,” claimed Rakesh, a resident of the slum. “It could give us land to relocate. We would have thanked them. Instead, to hide us, they put a curtain up, as if we are ‘dirty’ and shouldn’t be seen. Our politicians take our votes, but live in palaces.”

The Commonwealth Games are supposed to herald Delhi’s arrival as a world-class city. But in this new incarnation, there’s no place for slums. Especially for a government which people here say is more concerned with saving face, than saving its citizens.

Women in the slums have to trudge around the entire barricade just to fetch water. Children, too, have to squeeze through holes to avoid the new, longer route.

“There is no water here,” said Munna Lal, a gardener. “This is the biggest problem for us. There used to be one tap close by, but that has been shut, so we have to walk to get water from far away.”

India spent at least 4.6 billion dollars on upgrading Delhi’s infrastructure for the Games. But slum residents like Rati Devi’s family say the development has bypassed them.

“If the government had provided some amenities for us, built even two proper houses for us to live in, we’d have thanked them,” Devi told RT. “Or they could have opened a school in this slum, or provided us with drinking water.”

When the Games are over the boards will go. But residents will be left wondering why billions can be found for a sporting spectacle, but barely a few dollars for their own basic necessities.