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The other zero-sum game

The other zero-sum game

It is just as well that our Public-Private Partnership (PPP) policies, old or old-wine-in-new-bottle, are clear about private participation in the operations of infrastructure projects; in particular, it is a relief that private participants are put in charge of making projects viable. It is hard to argue that infrastructure projects in a populous country like India can ever be unviable, theoretically speaking, although investors will often make that argument in the impatience that goes with their non-infra experience. Yet, in the absence of private participation, infrastructure projects can frequently be viable but unused or incomplete.

It is impossible for private players to make huge infrastructure projects viable without government facilitations. A zoomed-out vision will reveal that the facilitation we are talking about merely includes developmental activity. To exemplify, the govern­ment decides to build airports in non-metropolitan areas where viability is not exactly commensurate with the turnaround periods that entrepreneurs and investors expect.

A more immediate example is the stark contrast between the spectacular success of the Formula One (F1) track in Greater Noida and the grand disuse of our other sports infrastructure. When Mani Shankar Aiyar was Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, a recommendation to renovate the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium under PPP was made. The renovation was nevertheless carried out under a non-PPP contract. The Stadium was up for renov­ation to be used in the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Since it was built for the 1982 Asi­an Games, it has been less used than disu­sed: two one-day cricket matches, sporadic local league football (not even that any lon­ger), and a few concerts. It has now been han­ded over to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), but here's the irony: India was scheduled to play its home matches at that stadium in the 2014 FIFA qualifiers, but the field is declared unplayable, and matches are moved to another stadium.

On the other hand, the F1 track was built efficiently under PPP (contrast that with the controversies surrounding the construction of the Commonwealth Games infrastructure). Now that the Indian Grand Prix organisers expect a turnaround only in four years, supporting infrastructure will kick in to rake in the moolah by providing it as a revenue-earning platform for other sports in a large new development around the track, the much-awaited Jaypee Greens Sports City. Jaypee Infrastructure Group, which has invested approximately Rs 900 crore in the construction and another Rs 900 crore on F1 licence fee, partners with the Uttar Pradesh government to fill 35 per cent of the 2,500-acre site with a 100,000-seat cricket stadium, a golf course and a shooting range.

The desuetude of major sporting infrastructure means a twofold disadvantage: failure to utilise our existing sporting infrastructure effectively, and zero revenues from some of the prime properties in our cities. In a country that is hungry for international sporting and entertainment events, event managers would have a field day in utilising stadia. However, the pressure to make our sports infrastructure viable lies in the hands of the government, and an obvious solution is to stop looking at sporting development purely from a developmental perspective and lay their trust in PPP model of development.

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