As India prepares a show of wealth at the Commonwealth Games, Dateline reports on the poor who say they're missing out in the race for riches.
Sunday, September 5, 2010 - 20:34

India is preparing to welcome the world to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, but behind the show of wealth, at what's being dubbed the most expensive games in history, Dateline's Yalda Hakim discovers a different story.

Thousands of slums have been demolished and the residents moved to outside the city, while the poor earn a few dollars a day building luxurious apartments for competitors, which will eventually sell for up to a million dollars.

Out in the slums of Mumbai, Yalda finds children as young as five combing polluted rivers and dirty alleyways for junk they can sell to survive, amid claims that money has been diverted away from schemes to fight poverty to pay for the games.

WATCH - See Yalda's report on the two different sides of India.

PHOTO GALLERY - A selection of Yalda's photos, with more about her trip to India.

VIDEO EXTRA - Yalda's video blog describing some of her experiences filming in Delhi and Mumbai.

HOW TO HELP - Find out more about the Acorn Foundation's Dharavi Project, which works with India's slum dwellers and was featured in Yalda's report.

DELHI GAMES - SBS's World News Australia has full coverage of the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

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After plenty of hullabaloo and carry-on, with just four weeks until the much-debated Commonwealth Games kick off in Delhi claims and denials of corruption and mishandling persist. The most recent - and possibly the most serious - setback to the Games was a report this week of an outbreak of dengue fever. The Games, of course, were meant to showcase modern India, with all its promise of burgeoning wealth and opportunity, but, as Yalda Hakim reports, there are many who argue that the billions spent on this sporting extravaganza could have been put to much better use.

REPORTER: Yalda Hakim

The scramble is on to get the Games venues completed in time for the Opening Ceremony. Despite weeks of corruption allegations and exposes of building rorts, the head of the Games Committee, Suresh Kalmadi, says everything will be OK.

SURESH KALMADI, GAMES COMMITTEE HEAD: We've got money for infrastructure, we've got money for the Games, we've got money for training for the Games and it is going to be a beautiful Games.

While Indian officials have rejected my requests to visit unfinished stadiums, they're more than happy to take me here. This is where the athletes will live for the two weeks of the Games. This is a display of the new India - an emerging superpower with a thriving economy and growing middle class. These lavish apartments will sell for up to a $1 million each when the athletes have left. But outside there is a very different India.

DURGA (Translation): You are tiring an old woman out!

REPORTER (Translation): You do this all day?

DURGA (Translation): Yes.

This is Durga. She says she's spent more than a year working on Games sites around Delhi.

REPORTER (Translation): How much do they pay you for this work?

DURGA (Translation): Enough to fill an empty stomach, about 70 to 80 rupees.

80 rupees is less than $1 a day - and that's drawn her and her family here from a village on the outskirts of Delhi. She knows she will never set foot in the apartments. Simply feeding the hungry is her main aim.

REPORTER (Translation): How many children do you have?

DURGA (Translation): I've got 2 kids, I feed all the children here and also the ones passing by, if I don't work, I don't eat. God will take care of me, no one else

Durga is not unique - there are more than 400 million Indians who survive on less than $1 a day, millions of them living in slums with no access to clean water or toilets. The government doesn't want its international visitors to see these slums so thousands have been demolished - and the residents banished to the outskirts of the city.

VINOD SHETTY, LAWYER AND ACTIVIST, ACORN FOUNDATION: While we have our Commonwealth Games, while India is going into the 21st century and becoming a global power, the reality of Indian society must be put forward before the world.

VINOD SHETTY (Translation): We want to strengthen our cause so the government can give us homes and other things.

Vinod Shetty is a lawyer and activist who works with some of India's poorest.

VINOD SHETTY: The world cannot see India as a global power without understanding that there is a vast section which has been marginalised and this section works in the slums, and this section are the working poor in any urban centre. So the government attempts to just push the slums out of the city is a very short-sighted kind of a policy, which is very damaging.

Vinod took me on a tour of Asia's largest slum, Dharavi. It's in Mumbai, India's biggest city, and a million people eke out a living here. Arif is 10 years old, he too will probably never see the inside of a luxury apartment. For him and his friends, the slum is home and playground but it is also a means of employment. He is a rag picker - one of hundreds who work sifting thousands of tons of rubbish to sell what can be recycled.

ARIF (Translation): I used to steal toys with my friends then I learnt rag-picking and now I am good at it. I have good days and bad days.

Some people call this slum the green lungs of Mumbai - recycling Indian-style means re-using up to 80% of the city's waste. The rag pickers even burn the covering off copper wire so it can be re-used.

VINOD SHETTY: All the people working in waste are contributing towards the movement to save the planet. And their contribution is unknown because they themselves don't even know what they're doing because they're doing it out of their desperation, due to them belonging to the poorest of poor.

REPORTER (Translation): What do you do with the money - do you give it to your parents?

ARIF (Translation): I give a little to my parents and I spend the rest on food.

Arif lives down this alley under a bridge with his parents and brothers.

BOY (Translation) "Come inside. this is Arif's house".

Arif's mother Sheenaz says she would prefer her son to go to school and get an education, rather than work. But education is a luxury that she can't afford.

REPORTER (Translation): What would you like for Arif's future?

SHEENAZ, ARIF'S MOTHER (Translation): An education.

REPORTER (Translation): What would you like to be when you grow up?

ARIF (Translation): Something good.

REPORTER (Translation): Like what - a doctor, an engineer?

ARIF (Translation): A police inspector.

REPORTER (Translation): Why an inspector?

ARIF (Translation): There's something special about it...

REPORTER (Translation): Why is it so special?

ARIF (Translation): When I grow up I want to arrest criminals.

Arif tells me that his younger brother, Suheil, pleads to work with him collecting rubbish but Arif says the risks to his brother's health and the chance of injury are too great.

REPORTER (Translation): But what if you get injured?

ARIF (Translation): I can handle it, but he could not - he is too little.

Vinod Shetty says there has been no official acknowledgement that the work the boys do is risking their health.

VINOD SHETTY: There are major occupational hazards in doing this work, a lot of chemicals which are being released, toxins which entering their bodies, and this is nowhere documented.

Any health assessment seems unlikely and it would need to include their playtime as well. 19-year-old Laxmi watches Bollywood films every chance she gets and like young Arif, she also has a dream for the future - to watch her Bollywood idols at a cinema.

LAXMI (Translation): Yes, I often wonder what it would be like, people often go there and spend lots of money. I would love to go, but I'm told it's no place for a woman - anyway, I don't have the status to go.

Laxmi's husband won't allow her to work so every morning, she waits for him to leave home, before she sets off for her own job - packing paper waste to be recycled.

LAXMI (Translation): I lie and work secretly because I need the money.

VINOD SHETTY: Our feeling is that you cannot hide poverty. India is poor, and that nobody can hide.

WORKER (Translation): Come on! This is the centre of my universe - this is where I live.

These Dharavi tannery workers wonder if they too will one day see the spoils from India's economic growth.

WORKER (Translation): Listen, I have no idea where this is sold or for how much, we come here from our villages because we are desperate, and I have no idea how much it sells for.

They tell me that they've travelled here from all over the country seeking a better life. Here in Dharavi they can earn between $2 and $3 a day in unsafe conditions.

WORKER (Translation): There are no masks - we get fevers, colds, flu and so on.

REPORTER (Translation): Protective shoes?

WORKER (Translation): No, there are no facilities for us, the employers provide no facilities - we just come, work and leave.

VINOD SHETTY: This would have been a fantastic opportunity for India to have put this on the table that while we have sportsmen, while we have athletes, we should invite NGOs, we should invite global trusts or foundations to come and work in India, and they can come out with some solutions for all the problems which are facing Indian society.

In Delhi, Games organisers insist that everything is going according to plan.

SURESH KALMADI: Don't read the press, everything will be OK. Don't look at the television - every day we are on track.

But India has blown its Commonwealth Games budget - overspending by tens of millions of dollars. And according to a recent Indian report, has been diverting money from schemes to fight poverty to further fund Delhi's Games. Head of the Games Committee Suresh Kalmadi denies this.

SURESH KALMADI: Delhi has the potential to have the best Games ever - even better than Melbourne.

For Vinod Shetty though, the Commonwealth Games represents a missed opportunity.

VINOD SHETTY: The measurement of a good democracy is the way we treat our poor and the marginalised people, not the size of our stadiums and the quality of the AstroTurf or the quality of the tennis courts. Just by showing the most beautiful parts of the city and putting curtains in front of slums is not going to solve the problem.

GEORGE NEGUS: Yalda Hakim filming and reporting in Delhi. But right now Yalda's here with us in the Dateline studio. Yalda, good to see you - I loved that little kid.

YALDA HAKIM, VIDEO JOURNALIST: I know if, he was my favourite too.

GEORGE NEGUS: What was his name?

YALDA HAKIM: Arif, he is ten.

GEORGE NEGUS: I wrote it down, he said "I have my good days and my bad days". He is how old?

YALDA HAKIM: 10 years old.

GEORGE NEGUS: I actually wrote down what your NGO guide said. He said "The measurement of a good democracy is the way we treat our poor and marginalised people. Not the size of our stadiums or the quality of the AstroTurf." That just about sums up this dichotomy, this dilemma that you were actually reporting about - while all that was going on in the slums, they are trying to build a Commonwealth Games stadium, for goodness sake.

YALDA HAKIM: That's right, George. Well a group of NGOs held a press conference in Delhi this week and they describe the event as the most blatant exercise in corruption, in modern-day India.

GEORGE NEGUS: The most of blatant?

YALDA HAKIM: The most of the blatant in modern-day India. They said it would take the Indian people up to 25 years to repay the Games which have been dubbed the most expensive in history

GEORGE NEGUS: So they would have to be asking themselves, really deep down, whether it was really worth all the trouble?

YALDA HAKIM: That's right. I mean it is costing $2 billion to $10 billion. Funds have been siphoned out of money for poverty-stricken people to fund the Games.

GEORGE NEGUS: Siphoning money off?

YALDA HAKIM: That is right. The government is now looking at launching an inquiry into this to get the money back from funds that were moved from welfare schemes to fund the Games.

GEORGE NEGUS: It certainly smacks of a misdirected priority, that is for sure, but it is going to go ahead, isn't it?

YALDA HAKIM: That's right, yes. While NGOs have called for people to come out onto the streets and boycott the events, I never got the sense that that would actually happen or that they would get called off. When I met the head of the organising committee, Suresh Kalmadi, in Delhi, he was quite optimistic. While he admitted that things were going slow, that they would eventually get there, and that this is the way India operates.

GEORGE NEGUS: A month to go, and we'll find out for the athletes' sake, at least. Thanks for that, well done. And the world is your oyster, where to next?

YALDA HAKIM: Lots of stories to tell, looking forward to getting back out there.

GEORGE NEGUS: Yalda has also done a video blog and photo gallery from her trip for our website, so go and have a look at









David potts

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5TH September 2010