SERIOUS concerns hang over the safety of 16 major structures built or renovated for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, including several large sporting venues.
The suspect venues include those for badminton and squash, hockey, boxing, diving and the practice rugby stadium.
Several flyovers that are expected to carry hundreds of thousands of cars a day are also on the list, as are large stretches of elevated road leading to the 60,000-seat Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
The chief technical examiner of the Central Vigilance Commission, India's highest government watchdog, found evidence two months ago that safety certificates at the 16 projects had been falsified to cover up "poor quality work".
With only five days to go until the opening ceremony, The Times has learnt that the affected sites - which had previously not been publicly identified - have still not yet been retested and signed off as safe.
"We cannot reach a definite conclusion on safety," a commission official said last night (Monday). It found that 12 concrete samples failed strength tests, that inferior concrete had been used instead of formulas approved for the Delhi climate, that anticorrosives used for steel reinforcements were substandard and that electrical systems were potentially dangerous.
The suspect work was carried out by the bodies responsible for the biggest Games projects. One of the organisations alleged to have forged safety documents is the Delhi Development Authority, which built the athletes' village. That was criticised last week as being "unfit for human habitation".
Concerns about shoddy infrastructure increased last week after a bridge leading to the main stadium collapsed, injuring 27 labourers, and part of the ceiling of the weightlifting stadium fell in. In July part of the roof at the table tennis venue had collapsed and a loose grill also injured a swimmer at the pool of the SP Mukherjee stadium.
However, Indian officials have displayed little contrition so far and yesterday the chief organiser claimed that the crisis that has engulfed the event was part of an international "conspiracy against India".
Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, denied that the condition of the athletes' village had been lacking - despite toilets being found caked in excrement and dog paw prints being found on beds. A "few pictures of dirty toilets do not mean that the Games village is not world class," he said.
His remarks came as British diplomats scrambled to ensure that the Prince of Wales would open the event on Sunday amid Indian suggestions that the honour should go to the Indian President, Pratibha Patil.
The Queen would normally declare the start of the Games as head of the Commonwealth. However, in May she decided not to travel to India and said that she was sending the Prince of Wales, a move widely interpreted as a snub in the host nation.
Yesterday British officials were fiercely guarding the job of reading the message encased in the Queen's Baton, the Commonwealth equivalent of the Olympic Torch, for the Prince. The baton has been on a tour of the Commonwealth and the reading of the message within, a job reserved for the Queen for the past 44 years, officially marks the start of the Games, they insisted.