India pitches tents for 2010 Games
Amrit Dhillon in New Delhi
In what could be a sign that New Delhi is ill-prepared to host the Commonwealth Games in October 2010, the government has proposed that some visitors stay in tents during their trip to the capital.
Faced with an influx of 160,000 foreign visitors to the Games and a shortage of 150,000 hotel rooms nationwide, excluding a shortage of around 40,000 in New Delhi itself, the Tourism Ministry has urged private tourist operators to set up tented accommodation.
An appeal to some of the city's 16 million citizens to offer their homes as bed-and-breakfast accommodation also failed to arouse much enthusiasm.
Public embarrassment at the prospect of offering visitors tents is all the more intense because the government had pledged to transform the congested and polluted capital into a world-class city in time for the Commonwealth Games.
The government insists that staying in a tent does not necessarily mean slumming it.
The tents that Tourism Minister Ambika Soni proposes are apparently more sophisticated than those used by campers. They will be made of canvas, but will have attached toilets, kitchens and storage space.
'Safety and hygiene are paramount. We have issued specifications on the toilets and kitchens, as well as the provisions that must be made for garbage disposal and solid-waste management,' Mrs Soni said.
In fact, the ministry is planning to set up tented accommodation in other parts of India, too, to solve the hotel room shortage. The tents will be pitched near pilgrimage sites and wildlife parks.
It will be the first time India has hosted the Commonwealth Games, and it wants to project itself as an emerging power with a beautiful and modern capital.
People were told to expect new underground rail lines, a state-of-the-art airport, reliable electricity and water supply, and new roads, tunnels and bridges as part of a stunning facelift. But a drive around the capital reveals little building activity.
Not one of the 64 projects that are part of the US$18 billion facelift has been finished. Work on the Games Village and stadium in east Delhi, near the heavily polluted Yamuna River, began only a few months ago.