NEW DELHI: A couple of months before the South Asian Games (SAG) in Guwahati and Shillong, the Union sports ministry finds itself in a spot. Taking lessons from the scandals that rocked the 2010 Commonwealth Games, a cautious NDA government wants to host a taint-free Games and had asked the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to field a senior officer in the organising committee. But the CAG has refused to do so.
Last month, the ministry had requested CAG to depute a senior officer who could vet the financial proposals and tenders for the Games, slated for February 2016, so that any graft charges could be avoided. Sources confirmed the CAG refused to depute a Director-rank officer for the SAG, saying their mandate is to review projects after they have taken off or money being spent, and not before.
This refusal may not have much of significance in the administrative block, but it certainly has political value ahead of Assam’s Assembly polls next April. Sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal has been recently given charge of state BJP chief and is set to be a chief ministerial candidate. And months before the crucial polls, Sonowal is being extra cautious as any controversy here would go against him.
Sources said the ministry is viewing the option of hiring a retired CAG officer, who could be incorporated into the Games organising committee to oversee the tendering process. With hardly any time left for the multi-sporting event, the organising committee is in tearing hurry to award tenders—a situation similar to CWG, warranting quick decisions, but could be questioned later.
The 12th South Asian Games was originally planned to be organised by Bangladesh. However, due to their inability, the Government of India showed willingness to host the multi-sporting event. The Games, as per the current schedule, will be held in Assam and Meghalaya. The government will spend nearly `75 crore for the event.
The ministry’s concerns can be gauged from in its earlier missive to the CAG. “With the experience of CWG fresh in the institutional memory of the sports department, it is suggested that an officer of the level of Director (Audit) is made a member of the finance committee of the organising committee of Games, so that his advice is taken on board and thus mistakes which happen due to shortage of time are reduced to a large extent. He will bring in expertise which is not present in the Finance Committee otherwise.”
Now with CAG turning its back, the ministry will have to be cautious about each and every step.