Friday, June 25, 2010

Queens Baton Arrived with Full Glory

Indian border guards with Pakistan have been put on maximum alert as India prepares to welcome the Queen's Baton Relay today for the Commonwealth Games 2010 in October. This is the first time the baton will enter India after covering nearly 170,000 km across several Commonwealth nations in different continents. The baton is scheduled to enter India from Pakistan through the Attari border at 9.25 a.m.

It will then pass through most Indian states and union territories, covering over 20,000 km before reaching New Delhi on September 30. The Border Security Force (BSF), which mans the 553-km long Radcliffe Line between India and Pakistan in Punjab, has stepped up security at the Attari-Wagah joint border check-post. Himmat Singh, the BSF inspector general in Punjab, told IANS: "Security forces, which remain alert along the international border, have been put on maximum alert for the baton relay.

Normally, at the border we have spectators during the evening retreat ceremony. But this function is scheduled in the morning. Therefore, we have to take extra care while making security arrangements," he added. Special security arrangements have been made by the BSF and night patrolling has been enhanced. Besides ensuring security, the BSF will put up its bands to play during the arrival ceremony. Traditional 'bhangra' and 'gidda' dancers and other performers will welcome the baton.

Several VIPs, including Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, senior politicians and reputed sportspersons, are expected at the ceremony. The event will be marked by a special event in which Syed Arif Hassan, Pakistan Olympics Association president would hand over the baton to Suresh Kalmadi, Indian Olympics Association (IOA) chief.

Earlier on Tuesday a huge participation was witnessed at the first CWG Run initiated by The TOI at Amritsar itself. The 2 km run began at Company Garden and culminated at Guru Nanak Stadium. The masses cheered at the 'Shera' the mascot of the CWG. Navjot Singh Siddhu, former cricketer and now Member of Parliament and chief guest for the occasion flagged off the run. He also distributed cash prizes and special honors to five international players from Amritsar.

The countdown has begun

The arrival of Queen's Baton has upped the spirits as just 100 days are left after which India will host the greatest event in her independent history. As the Indian capital gears to host its largest sporting extravaganza, the crucial pieces are beginning to fall in place albeit a little late in some cases. Stadia are getting completed, Metro links becoming operational, security plans finalized and related infrastructure projects nearing completion.

The organizing committee is confident of putting up a good show for the October 3-14 games, for which a whopping Rs.15,000 crore (Rs.150 billion/over $3 billion) has been allocated. Its confidence is boosted by the successful completion of recent international sporting events - hockey, shooting, boxing as well as IPL cricket matches in the capital - which were considered test events for the games. The games will have 17 disciplines to be held at six venue clusters and five stand alone stadia in the metropolis of 17 million people, one of the most crowded in the world. A majority of the stadia have been inaugurated, but there still remains a question mark over completion of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held.

The sale of tickets started early this month, and the official ticketing agency, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp (IRCTC), is expecting to sell 1.7 million tickets.

Frenzied activity in Delhi

In a recently held business conference 102 days before the opening ceremony. Sheila Dixit, chief minister of Delhi exhibited confidence that by the time Queen's Baton arrives in Delhi, the city will be ready to host the costliest Commonwealth Games till date.

The Delhi government and civic bodies are running against time to complete games related projects roads, flyovers, bridges, underpasses, parking places, beautification and street scaping to make the capital look like what the authorities never tire of saying "a world class city". Of the total 24 infrastructure related projects, 10 have been completed while the rest are likely to be completed by July. The Public Works Department (PWD) is behind in completing the street scaping work. At some main city roads in south Delhi, street scaping work is progressing at a snail's pace with roadsides and footpaths dug up and rubble strewn all around. The civic body is also carrying out 40 games related projects worth Rs.1, 000 crore (Rs.10 billion/$225 million). They include construction of parking facility in various parts of the city as well as the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

A cause of major concern is Delhi's chaotic traffic and the poor public transport system. The authorities have decided to have dedicated lanes for the games traffic to ensure quick movement. "The games lanes will be marked with paint, just like the bus lanes are now," Ajay Chaddha, Joint Commissioner (Traffic), told IANS. "There will be relevant signage too. We will be providing regular guidelines and information on whether the games lanes are operational and at what time. The lanes will be for movement of games officials, athletes and other related traffic." Delhi Metro, the capital's showpiece which is expected to cater to thousands of spectators during the games, is the only agency running ahead of others in completing its projects.

The only Metro projects that remain to be completed before the games are the Central Secretariat-Badarpur line and Airport Express Link. Both are scheduled to be completed by September. The Indira Gandhi International Airport will have a brand new Terminal 3 (T3) with world class facilities. It will be formally inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 3. Several countries scheduled to participate in the games have raised concerns over security, but the government has firmly said that they need not have any fears.

The authorities have approved installation of an integrated security system (ISS), estimated to cost Rs.370 crore (Rs 3.7 billion/85 million USD), to cover all the venues. According to Delhi Police commissioner Y.S. Dadwal, the police are "totally prepared" for the Commonwealth Games and have promised "an absolutely safe" sporting event. The Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee is training 30,000 volunteers to present Delhi's culture and etiquette to visitors. The authorities are also training thousands of bus, taxi, and auto drivers to converse in English and be tourist-friendly.