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Posted at: Oct 3, 2017, 2:35 AM; last updated: Oct 3, 2017, 2:38 AM (IST)FIFA U-17 WORLD CUP: 3 DAYS TO GO

Mum’s the word on Mission XI Million

RTI request on project turned down, sources say it’s due to money charged by event management agency
Mum’s the word on Mission XI Million
Former Sports Minister Vijay Goel had launched the Mission XI Million Programme with a lot of fanfare. File photo: Mukesh Aggarwal

Sabi Hussain

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 2

The Union Government has spent close to Rs 120 crore to ensure that the FIFA Under-17 World Cup turns out to be a big success. The state governments of the six host cities too have been shelling out crores to refurbish the infrastructure for the event. However, there’s one ambitious programme which has garnered the central government’s maximum attention – Mission XI Million (MXIM). Brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this programme had aimed to cover at least 11 million schoolchildren across the country by September 6, 2017 “to create awareness about the WC and build a legacy with a vision to make football the sport of choice in India”.

PM Modi had entrusted the task of reaching out to school kids to three stakeholders – the Sports Ministry, All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Javier Ceppi-headed Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the WC.

The government set aside over Rs 25 crore as the project cost for the MXIM programme. Out of this, the Ministry sanctioned an amount of Rs 12.55 crore. However, it’s not clear whether the amount was spent in right earnest by LOC to conduct the MXIM workshops in over 37 cities and 12,000 schools across all 29 states of India.

Denied information

The Tribune filed a Right to Information (RTI) application with the Ministry, AIFF and LOC to know about the money spent in holding the MXIM workshops. However, AIFF and LOC refused to part with the information, citing Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act.

The section reads: “information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.”

While denying the information, AIFF revealed that LOC had outsourced the work related to the MXIM project to a private event management agency (name withheld), operating out of Gurugram.

It couldn’t be ascertained as to how the tenders were floated and what the criterion was for awarding the contract to this agency.

There are five sanctioning authorities for expenditures in LOC for MXIM — AIFF secretary general Kushal Das, AIFF head of operations and strategy Kishore Taid, AIFF assistant secretary general (admin) Col BMR Mehta, U-17 WC tournament director Ceppi and LOC U-17 WC project director Joy Bhattacharjya. Two other persons are also closely involved in the project — programme head Sonia Minocha and LOC marketing head Arup Soans.

“We can confirm that AIFF had signed the agreement entered into with the agency. However, we are unable to provide you with any information… the contents of the said agreement being private and confidential. Disclosure of such content would undoubtedly harm the competitive position of the agency i.e a third party,” read the RTI reply.

What’s there to hide?

So what is in the agreement that stopped AIFF from disclosing the information?

The Tribune spoke to multiple sources in AIFF.  According to insiders, it’s the exorbitant amount allegedly charged by the agency in conducting MXIM workshops that has become LOC’s bane.

The MXIM programme was divided into three phases: seminars for teachers and educators, in-school activities and football festivals.

“Let’s take the example of serving refreshments to school kids during the workshops. The agency, it’s been understood, charged LOC Rs 60-70 per plate, while the market rate is not more than Rs 30,” a source informed.

“For hiring a photographer or videographer for just 3-4 hours for the workshop, the agency charged an astonishing Rs 10,000 per person. On the contrary, when LOC did a few workshops on its own, it didn’t pay more than Rs 6,000 for both the photographer and videographer. For installing a generator set, the agency provided the bills between Rs 12,000-20,000, while the market rate is between Rs 5,000-6,000.”

“Above all, the agency charged a certain percentage as commission on each of the items. For doing a simple recce of a workshop location, it demanded commission from LOC. It’s because of these figures that LOC hasn’t parted with the information. The top people in LOC have the knowledge of what’s happening and how the government money was spent,” the source added.

A legal expert said: “LOC can’t deny the information under Section 2(h)(d) of the RTI Act, which says ‘anybody controlled or substantially financed by the appropriate Government’. The LOC is using the government money.”

India not happy with practice facility?

India’s U-17 football coach Luis Norton de Matos has reportedly expressed his displeasure over the poor quality of a training field at the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium in Delhi. The 21-member Indian squad today shifted its base from Gurugram to the official team hotel in the capital. In the evening, the Indian team, under the watchful eyes of Matos, held their first practice session at the JLN Stadium training grounds. Sources in the All India Football Federation informed that Matos wasn’t happy with the facility primarily because of the condition of the ground and partly owing to the open arena, which left the team exposed to media’s probing eyes and unwarranted interruption from volunteers. 

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