Image: Workers in front of an ad for Commonwealth Games in New Delhi
Reuters
Workers pull a cart loaded with bricks and sacks of sand in front of boards advertising the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 9/23/2010 10:08:43 AM ET 2010-09-23T14:08:43

As India struggled to prevent the Commonwealth Games from being cancelled on Thursday, rights groups said that construction workers were paid half the country's minimum wage to toil on sites where accidents have killed dozens.

Organizers were struggling to cope with unfinished buildings, a filthy athletes' village and an outbreak of dengue fever just hours before thousands of athletes had been scheduled to descend on New Delhi.

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Britain's Sky News reported that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was holding an emergency meeting Thursday in a bid to avoid a widespread boycott of the event.

Rights group Common Cause told msnbc.com that at least 47 workers died while working on sites linked to the Games, which is due to begin on October 3.

'Exploit them to to the hilt'
Many of the estimated 100,000 workers on Games' site were paid as little as 110 Rupees ($2.40) per day, close to half of the mandated minimum wage of 203 Rupees, said Kamal Jaswal, director and chief executive of Common Cause.

"This illustrates the dire lot of the construction worker," Jaswal told msnbc.com. "Particularly migrant workers — petty contractors exploit them to the hilt."

Common Cause, the People's Union for Democratic Rights and Nirmaan Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam have banded together to highlight what a variety of issues involving construction workers on the site.

"We've been saying there have been accident upon accident which have gone unreported," activist Moushumi Basu told BBC News.

Authorities denied there were any violations until this year, when an Indian court stood by the groups' findings.

Video: Reporter tests lax security at Games (on this page)

Held every four years for members of the organization of mostly former British colonies, the Games are estimated to have cost as much as $6 billion. India had hoped to use them to display its growing global economic and political clout, rivaling China.

Instead, they have snowballed into a major embarrassment for the government, which is having to fend off criticism of shoddy construction, inadequate security and unfit accommodation. 

In a sign of desperation, the federal government ordered the organizing committee to hand over management of the Games Village, which will house 6,500 athletes, to the government.

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"We're not surprised (about the problems)," Basu added. "It is these very officials who did not bat an eyelid when it came to organizing residential workers camps right next to drains, when water seeped into these camps for these workers ... this shows where their priorities lie."

On Thursday, more nations delayed their teams' arrivals for the games as organizers raced against time to address security and health concerns that have already led several top athletes to pull out.

Photoblog: India's race to the finish

New Zealand joined Canada and Scotland in delaying its arrival in New Delhi due to poor accommodation for athletes, compounded by heavy monsoon rains and the dengue epidemic.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard highlighted security fears surrounding the Games and said athletes should decide for themselves whether or not to attend. Two foreign visitors were shot and wounded by suspected militants in the city on Sunday.

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"There is obviously widespread concern about the Commonwealth Games," Gillard told reporters in Canberra.

On Wednesday, a portion of the false ceiling in at the weightlifting venue in India's capital caved in , a day after 27 workers were injured when a footbridge collapsed near the same sports complex.

"Something may be dripping, some tile may collapse, (it) doesn't mean the entire games are bad," Delhi's chief minister Sheila Dikshit told Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Reporter tests lax security at Games

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