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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

New Delhi’s G20 Transformation: Disappearing Act for the Poor

New Delhi’s bustling streets have undergone a transformation, with newly resurfaced roads, illuminated sidewalks, vibrant murals adorning city buildings, and an abundance of blooming flowers. This dramatic makeover, costing $120 million, has been undertaken ahead of the Group of 20 (G20) summit, with the aim of showcasing India’s cultural prowess and bolstering its global position.

However, this beautification project has left many of the city’s impoverished residents feeling marginalized, much like the stray animals that have been removed from certain neighborhoods. For street vendors and those residing in New Delhi’s shantytowns, the makeover has resulted in displacement and loss of livelihood, sparking concerns about the government’s approach to poverty alleviation. While the 2011 census recorded 47,000 homeless individuals in the city, activists argue that this number significantly underestimates the actual figure, which they believe to be at least 150,000.

Since January, hundreds of homes and roadside stalls have been demolished, displacing thousands of people. Many shantytowns were razed, with residents receiving eviction notices shortly before demolition began. Authorities argue that these demolitions targeted “illegal encroachers,” but human rights activists and those affected question the policy, alleging that it has pushed even more people into homelessness.

Similar demolitions have occurred in other Indian cities like Mumbai and Kolkata, which have hosted various G20-related events leading up to the summit. Activists contend that this isn’t merely a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”

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Abdul Shakeel, of the activist group Basti Suraksha Manch, argues that “in the name of beautification, the urban poor’s lives are destroyed.” He points out that the money used for the G20 event comes from taxpayers, and it doesn’t make sense to use these funds to evict and displace them.

The two-day global summit will be held at the newly constructed Bharat Mandapam building, located near the iconic India Gate monument in the heart of New Delhi, with numerous world leaders expected to attend. However, preparations for the G20 summit have led to the displacement of nearly 300,000 people, especially from neighborhoods that foreign leaders and diplomats will visit, according to a report by the Concerned Citizens Collective, a rights activist group. The report also highlights the government’s failure to provide alternative shelters for the newly homeless.

Indian authorities have faced criticism in the past for clearing homeless encampments and shantytowns before major events. Despite some progress in reducing poverty, India’s battle against poverty remains formidable, with nearly 10% of the population having moved out of multidimensional poverty between 2016 and 2021, according to a government report.

In this challenging environment, some street vendors find themselves caught between sacrificing their livelihoods for the nation’s pride and the need to earn a living. Shankar Lal, who sells chickpea curry with fried flatbread, reflects the sentiment of many when he says, “These are government rules, and we’ll do what we are told. The government doesn’t know whether we are dying of hunger or not.”

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