New Delhi, Oct 13: The recently held Beijing Olympics raised the bar for the subsequent sports events globally, with Tourism Minister Ambika Soni declaring that the Commonwealth Games to be held in 2010 would be an impeccable and a splendid affair. A kind of tension seems to be brewing in the minds of all the stakeholders of the Commonwealth Games as to how to meet the high standards set by the implementation machinery set in action by the Chinese government.
But Ms Soni was quick to add that there was a difference in the political systems of the two countries. While the Chinese government could order a ban on the movement of private cars in certain areas, a free and vibrant democracy like India cannot even imagine taking recourse to such a step. That there was no country like India where many freedoms are granted and yet it must not be found wanting in any manner in holding the games, after all the country's prestige would be at stake.
In short, the Commonwealth Games would be a truly Indian affair with its own flavour.
The Minister made these remarks at the opening session of the recently concluded two-day Convention organised by Indian Tourist Transporters Association (ITTA). The theme of the event was 'Motoring the Commonwealth Games'. It turned out that many things would go to make for the success of the Games, which require meticulous planning, well in advance.
Now just look at what transport tour operators alone would have to do.
The advice came from Mr V K Duggal, former Home Secretary and Member of the Commission on Centre State Relations.
The transport tour operators must imbibe the matra called 'PACE'-- Punctuality, according top priority to state-of-the-art equipment, courtesy and efficiency. He did this with the display of Boards, as you would find is done in schools.
Mr Duggal impressed upon the audience that the road network in and around Delhi was far short of the growth of vehicular traffic. This being so, the volume of traffic on roads during the games would multiply requiring proper planning.
ITTA President Sarab Jit Singh said his organisation was fired by the "great success and meticulous planning" of the Beijing Olympics and the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. "We have collectively decided to shoulder the responsibility of providing complete transportation services to participants of the Games," he said.
"With minimal help from the government, both Centre and States, we can perform our role with elan," he said.
The Games will entail massive all round training of motoring and support staff, he said.
What are the issues involved in handling the motoring aspects of the 2010 Games? The expectation is that about 8,000 athletes and other supporting staff will descend on India. In addition, 6,000 more people will participate in the event comprising technical teams, media, officials and VIPs from various countries.
The Delhi government faces a formidable challenge of providing an international standard infrastructure within a rigorous timeline.
This includes building several sports stadium, developing the Commonwealth Games village for accommodating athletes and visiting officials, building new roads and expansion of the Delhi metro.
Mr Singh says ITTA's Delhi-based members alone have more than 7,500 tourist vehicles with more than 300 luxury coaches. The fleet of cars is frequently updated to adapting new technologies.
The Convention highlighted that safety and security of the athletes and the visitors would be of paramount importance. It said security clearance will be required for all the drivers and the supporting staff, who will be deputed for the job.
As the number of drivers and supporting staff would be significantly large, the process of selection and recruitment has to begin as soon as possible. There is shortage of time for the recruits to be given training.
Officials of the Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games were present at the Convention to take note of the proceedings of the event.
The experts said certain specific parameters of security clearance need to be laid down to indicate that the driver is not affiliated to any terror organisation.
According to a recent newspaper Report, the Delhi government needs 4,500 low floor buses for the Games, out of which 25 per cent will be AC coaches. Besides, 4,500 vehicles will have to be radio cabs to cater to 1,58,750 spectators, who would be traveling to different games venues. Mr Singh requested the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee to decide on the type of vehicles that they will be most appropriate for this event that are to be used by sports persons, sports officials, technical teams, media, officials and VVIPS. This will enable a proper plan to be laid out to start preparing for the games. According to ITTA estimates, the requirement would be of the order of around 4,000 vehicles. This will include cars of different models, vans, mini coaches and large coaches.
The approximate number of drivers, who are to be trained and educated for the event will be around 5,000. Drivers will also need to learn the use of communication equipment like wireless systems and mobile phones.
A key problem which transport tourist traffic faces relates to tourist vehicles being stopped at the entry and exit points of the States to pay inter-state taxes.
"This irritant needs to be removed to enable the visitors free movement," Mr Singh said.
There is merit in the suggestion, he says, mooted by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways during the Transport Development Council meeting that tourist vehicles owned and operated by the recognised tourist transport operators should be given a separate registration series to distinguish them from others. These separately registered vehicles should be given free movement and access across India.
"We would like that adequate parking space be earmarked at airports, railway stations, monuments, main market places, in and around hotels and stadia," says Mr Bobby Sawhney, a well known tourist transport operator of the city. .
There can be multi-level parking system in the Games village, where the tourist vehicles can gain easy access.
The Convention threw up certain economic and business dimensions of motoring activities relating to the Games. Here is a gist.
--Certain types of vehicles that are required for the event which are not available in India will have to be imported; --To augment the existing fleet to the required level, transport operators will have to make large investments. As the experience of different countries shows that after such mega events, there is a lull in the business that continues for quite some time. This is because supply of vehicles has increased and demand takes its own time to pick up again; Therefore, the Government needs to consider providing the following support: (a) Tourist transport operators should be allowed duty free import of such vehicles; (b) Exemption be provided from excise duty and VAT on the purchase of vehicles within India; (c) The government should consider providing interest subsidy to the tourist transport operators on the lines this is being done by the Ministry of Tourism for creating tourism infrastructure in remote areas; (d) A revision of the EPCG scheme for transport tourist operators is called for. Tourism organizations are allowed to import tourist vehicles under the EPCG scheme. Few have been able to take advantage of this.
The importer has to fulfill certain export obligations, namely to earn foreign exchange eight times the CIF value of the vehicle in foreign exchange over a period of eight years.
The tourist transport operators provide services through tour operators, travel agents and hotels. They do not interact with the tourists directly and do not have any direct foreign exchange earnings.
The need of the hour is that transport operators should be given one time exemption from the scheme.
Another key issue debated at the Convention related to the development of wayside amenities.
As the new National Highways are being developed across Delhi, it was important to give boost to the wayside amenities that can facilitate the movement of tourist vehicles.
This will help the tourism industry to tap the potential of possible tourist destinations from all over the country, which will kickstart economic growth in far-flunged areas and help in generating employment opportunities.
Government provides sops to private players such as tax holidays and soft loans to develop wayside amenities. But these benefits do not reach the targeted people and are being misutilised by those who are not connected with the tourism industry.
ITTA appealed to the government to make the entire system more transparent and systematic.
What are the lessons that history has to offer? In the Melbourne games, 70 fish of different varieties were imported to represent the 70 participating countries. The orders for these fish were placed two years, in advance.
The motoring aspects in the Non-Aligned Movement Conference held way back in 1983 was a fiasco. The government wanted a large number of white cars. The Indian tourist transport operators had cars of different colours, unsuited to the requirements. The government was left with no option but to import these at its own cost. The PATA Conference some years ago was a different model. The requirements were indicated well in advance. Private players met these requirements and provided flawless service.
It is thus a wake up call. Unfortunately, Mr Singh says, not enough work is being done for the preparation of different dimensions relating to the Commonwealth Games, which is just two-year away and one-third the size of the Olympics. If this is so, what then would be the fate of the Commonwealth Games?