Will the Buddh International Circuit, India's first Formula One arena, be ready on Oct. 28, when teams descend on the venue for their first practice session? Even Bernie Ecclestone had his doubts until recently.
Manoj Gaur, chairman of the Jaypee Group, the company that built and will manage the circuit, used a now familiar line to reassure journalists at the unveiling of the track last week. "The bride is adorned with a bindi even while the baraat" or groom's party, "is at the door. We are expecting 24 grooms," he said.
So, it followed naturally that the final preparations, including safety measures like the rubber tires that are set up alongside the side of the track were still incomplete, with only 10 days to go before ace weekend.
The track has been greeted with fanfare in journalist and sporting circles, and with legislation and protests elsewhere. Public-interest litigation was filed against the government of Uttar Pradesh, the state where the complex is located, and the Jaypee Group. The PIL claimed that because Formula One is an elitist sport, the state government has no right to exempt Jaypee from paying entertainment taxes, alleging that the exemption was granted only because the company is "very close to the political leadership."
Rejecting the organizers' claims that doing so would bring adverse publicity to the event, the Supreme Court passed an interim order on Friday, instructing the Jaypee Group to deposit 25 percent of the sale proceeds in a bank account, in order to pay taxes if necessary.
Expressing concern about the aims of the special development zone set up by the state government and whether it caters to the needs of the average person, the court said "In Mumbai, for example, there are certain jhuggi jhopris" or slums "which are part of a economic development zone. There you can say we will have a cricket or football stadium. But in the name of sports, you cannot have a motor race there."
The organizers invoked patriotism, with Jaiprakash Gaur, the 81-year-old founder of the Jaypee Group, claiming that the shame India felt at the time of the Commonwealth Games will be erased with this event. Meanwhile, farmers on whose land the circuit now stands continue to protest. The land was bought by the state government in 2007 for the development of roads and industry. Farmers complain they have not received the compensation or jobs they were promised.