NEW DELHI – New Delhi’s crowded streets are back. Street lights turn on when the sidewalks are dark. The buildings and walls of the city are painted with bright frescoes. Flowers planted everywhere.
Many of the city’s poor say they have simply been wiped out, much like the stray dogs and monkeys removed from some neighbourhoods, as the Indian capital revamps its appearance ahead of this week’s G20 summit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government hopes to make a diligent effort Making New Delhi Shine – a $120 million “beautification project” – will help showcase the cultural prowess of the world’s most populous nation and boost its standing on the world stage.
But for many street vendors and those crowded into New Delhi’s shanty towns, this shift means displacement and loss of livelihoods, raising questions about the government’s policies on dealing with poverty. In a city of more than 20 million people, the 2011 census showed the number of homeless people at 47,000, but activists say that is a vast underestimate and that the real number is at least 150,000.
Since January, hundreds of homes and roadside stalls have been demolished, displacing thousands of people. Dozens of shantytowns were razed to the ground, and many residents did not receive eviction notices until shortly before demolitions began.
Authorities say the demolitions were carried out against “illegal trespassers”, but right-wing activists and evacuees question the policy and claim it has pushed thousands more into homelessness.
Similar demolitions were also carried out in other Indian cities such as Mumbai and Kolkata, which hosted it Various G20 events leading up to this weekend’s summit.
Activists say it was more of a case of out of sight, out of mind.
“In the name of beautification, the lives of the urban poor are being destroyed,” says Abdul Shakeel, of activist group Basti Suraksha Manch, or Forum to Save the Colony.
“The money used for the G20 is taxpayer money. Everyone pays the tax. The same money is being used to expel and displace them.” “This doesn’t make any sense.”
The two-day global summit will be held at the newly constructed Bharat Mandapam, a sprawling exhibition center in the heart of New Delhi near the historic India Gate monument – and several other landmarks. World leaders are expected to attend. The G20 includes the 19 richest countries in the world in addition to the European Union. India currently holds its presidency, which rotates annually among members.
In July, a report by Concerned Citizens, a human rights activist group, found that preparations for the G20 summit had led to the displacement of nearly 300,000 people, especially from neighborhoods that foreign leaders and diplomats would visit during various meetings.
At least 25 shantytowns and several night shelters for the homeless were destroyed, razed to the ground and turned into parks, the report said, adding that the government failed to provide shelters or alternative places for the newly displaced.
Last month, Indian police intervened to stop a meeting of prominent activists, academics and politicians criticizing Modi and his government’s role in hosting the G20 summit and wondering what interests the summit would benefit from.
“I can see homeless people on the streets… and now they are not allowed to live on the streets either,” said Rekha Devi, a New Delhi resident who attended the August 20 rally.
Davey, whose home was destroyed on one road, said authorities refused to consider the documents she showed as proof that her family had lived in the same house for nearly 100 years.
“Everyone is acting as if they are blind,” Devi said. “In the name of the G20 summit, farmers, workers and poor people are suffering.”
A country of 1.4 billion people, India’s struggle to end poverty remains daunting, even though a recent government report said nearly 135 million – roughly 10% of the country’s population – have emerged from so-called multidimensional poverty among Years 2016 and 2021. This concept takes into account not only financial poverty, but also how a lack of education, infrastructure and services affects a person’s quality of life.
Indian authorities have been criticized in the past for clearing out homeless camps and shantytowns before major events.
In 2020, the government hastily erected a half-kilometre (1,640 feet) long brick wall in Gujarat state before then-President Donald Trump’s visit, with critics saying it was built to block the view of a slum area inhabited by more than 2,000 people. Similar demolitions were also carried out during the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
Some street vendors say they are helpless, stuck between sacrificing their livelihoods for India’s pride and the desire to earn a living.
Shankar Lal, who sells chickpea curry with fried bread, said the authorities asked him three months ago to leave. These days, the only time he can open his stall along New Delhi’s busy road near the G20 summit venue is on Sundays, when the police pay less attention to street vendors.
Not enough to earn a living.
“These are government rules, and we will do what we are told. The government does not know whether we are dying of hunger or not,” Lal said.
“Coffee trailblazer. Certified pop culture lover. Infuriatingly humble gamer.”