India sacks Comm Games chief, rows rumble on

AMLAN CHAKRABORTY
Last updated 06:49 25/01/2011
Suresh Kalmadi
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SACKED: Suresh Kalmadi, the chief organiser of last year's scandal-ridden Delhi Commonwealth Games, has been sacked as the coalition government seeks to repair its public image.

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India's new sports minister has sacked the chief organiser of last year's scandal-ridden Delhi Commonwealth Games as the coalition government caught in a web of corruption cases seeks to repair its public image.

Ajay Maken said he took the decision to fire Games chief Suresh Kalmadi and Secretary General Lalit Bhanot to ensure a fair investigation into corruption allegations surrounding the $6 billion event held in October.

Intended to be India's answer to China's near-flawless staging of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Delhi Games descended into a complete chaos, salvaged only after a last-minute mad scramble by the red-faced government.

"... the move comes in light of the ongoing investigation by the (federal investigating agency) Central Bureau of Investigation over allegations of corruption and irregularities in organisation and conduct of Commonwealth Games 2010," Maken's ministry said in a statement.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is already under pressure from an opposition demand for a joint parliamentary probe into a $39 billion telecoms scam involving former Minister Andimuthu Raja.

The telecoms row, which shut down parliament for its December session and virtually deadlocked governance in Asia's third-largest economy, epitomises a slew of challenges facing the government.

In November, Kalmadi, a powerful lawmaker from Singh's Congress party, was fired from a party post following the allegations of graft and mismanagement of the games. His political influence is seen as a reason why he had managed to stay on as the chief of the Games organising panel.

Maken, who replaced Manohar Singh Gill as the new Sports and Youth Affairs Minister after Wednesday's cabinet reshuffle, said Kalmadi and Bhanot have been sacked with immediate effect.

Both Kalmadi and Bhanot have been asked to hand over charges to retired bureaucrat Jarnail Singh, chief executive officer of the Organising Committee, which was given an extended tenure after the Oct 3-14 Games to allow the investigations to complete.

Way before the actual Games began, corruption charges swirled around the London leg of the Queen's Baton Relay, leading to the sacking of three senior officials in August.

Subsequently, anti-corruption watchdogs identified several irregularities in awarding of contracts and identified several Games projects for large-scale corruption.

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At the weekend, New Zealand revealed it was still a six-figure from the Games while some Australian and British suppliers have said they had also not been fully paid.

Three months after the controversial event, the New Zealand Olympic Committee is yet to be reimbursed for travel costs for the 192-strong Kiwi team.

And much of the equipment used by our athletes who returned from the games with a 36-strong medal tally, including six gold, has still yet to return home due to delays at Indian customs.

"I can confirm it is a significant figure. It is in that region [a six-figure sum]," NZOC committee president Mike Stanley said.

"We would have rather this was tidied up much earlier than this ... there is no doubt about that.

"It is a cause of some concern for us."

An NZOC spokeswoman said Indian officials had said payments were scheduled to be made next week. The promise was initially made in November.

- Reuters

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