If the tender document and policies were tweaked by the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee to favour Swiss Timing for the time, scoring and result equipment, the delay in awarding the catering contract for the Games Village had almost prompted the government to call off the event.
The delay, had its “obvious” reasons, said officials of the OC and audit department, but refused to divulge further details.
The tender for the catering facilities inside the Games village was floated on June 1, 2009 and the final date for the completed tender was November 16, 2009. In the technical bid, only one company, Delaware North, was found suitable. In keeping with normal practice, the name of the company was forwarded for the commercial bid. However, the chairman of the Organising Committee, Suresh Kalmadi, took no decision for two months.
The delay prompted the government to consider airlifting the entire catering equipment in two sorties from London — fearing the Games could not be held if they did not do so.
On January 11, 2010, almost two months after Delaware North had qualified for the technical bid, Kalmadi decided the company had not paid the Earnest Money Deposit (EMD) — a good-faith deposit. He decided to cancel the bid of Delaware North and call fresh tenders. The process took another three months.
A fresh tender was floated on January 23, and this time two bids were received: one from IRCTC and the other from Delaware North. The bid of IRCTC was rejected on technical grounds and after more than five months Delaware North was selected again. This time, a partner of Delaware, PKL London – a company that provides catering equipment on rent and purchase – refused to be part of the Games.
In June, when the story broke that there was no company willing to provide catering in the Games Village, Lalit Bhanot, OC’s secretary-general, said PKL was moving away as it had “prior commitments”.
However, a top officer who was directly involved with the process of taking PKL and Delware back on board told Business Standard that PKL had refused to work with OC as it said the organisers were “not prompt enough in taking decisions” and they would not rent out the equipment any more. Delware said it would only work if PKL was willing to provide the catering equipment. Subsequently, the only option left with OC was to purchase the equipment.
Meanwhile, when OC approached Taj and ITC, among others, wanting to know if they would be able to provide catering, the companies refused, since this wasn’t their area of specialisation. OC had to buy the catering equipment for Rs 8.63 crore, instead of the estimated Rs 5 crore for renting the equipment.
Troubles on the catering front didn’t end here. Since the process had been moving so slowly it was felt that if the equipment was shipped, as was the earlier plan, the work wouldn’t end in time, as the shipment would take at least six weeks.
By this time the OC had given up all hope and the matter was referred to the cabinet secretary. In this meeting, it was felt that in the absence of the catering equipment the Games would not take place. Therefore, it was imperative the equipment reached on time.
To make sure the equipment reached on time, it had to be airlifted. Balmer Lawrie & Co was asked to hire Russian Antonov-123 transport planes, after both Air India and the Indian Air Force refused to do it on grounds of logistical and administrative impediments. These planes made two sorties, on July 8 and July 10, to bring the catering equipment from London to New Delhi.
A letter written by JiJi Thomson, special DG (Catering) to Kalmadi, said: “My confidence level is at its lowest ebb. I request that I may be relieved of the responsibility of catering with immediate effect.”