New Delhi has been redesigned for the G20 Summit. The city’s poor say they were simply wiped out

NEW DELHI (AP) – The crowded streets of New Delhi have been resurfaced. Street lamps once illuminate dark sidewalks. The city’s buildings and walls are painted with colorful murals and graffiti. Flowers are planted everywhere.

Many of the city’s poor say they have simply been wiped out, much like the stray dogs and monkeys that were removed from some neighborhoods as India’s capital was redesigned ahead of the Group of 20 nations summit this week.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is hoping for the costly effort Making New Delhi shine – a US$120 million “beautification project” – will help showcase the cultural prowess of the world’s most populous country and bolster its position on the global stage.

But for many street vendors and those crammed into New Delhi’s slums, the transformation has meant displacement and loss of their livelihoods, raising questions about the government’s policy on addressing poverty. In a city of more than 20 million people, the number of homeless people in the 2011 census was 47,000, but activists say that was a grossly underestimate and that the real number is at least 150,000.

Hundreds of homes and street stalls have been demolished and thousands displaced since January. Dozens of slums were leveled and many residents received eviction notices just before the demolitions began.

Authorities claim the demolitions were carried out against “illegal invaders,” but right-wing activists and displaced persons are questioning the policy, claiming it has forced thousands more to be homeless.

Similar demolitions were also carried out in other Indian cities that hosted, such as Mumbai and Kolkata Various G20 events leading up to the summit this weekend.

Activists say it was more than just an out of sight, out of mind case.

Abdul Shakeel of activist group Basti Suraksha Manch (Save Colony Forum) says that “in the name of beautification, the lives of the urban poor are being destroyed.”

“The money used for G20 is tax money. Everyone pays the tax. The same money will be used for eviction and resettlement,” he said. “It makes no sense.”

The two-day World Summit will be held in the newly constructed Bharat Mandapam building, a sprawling exhibition center in the heart of New Delhi near the landmark India Gate – and Many leading personalities from all over the world are expected. The G20 includes the 19 richest countries in the world and the European Union. India currently holds the presidency, which rotates among the members annually.

In July, a report by the Concerned Citizens Collective, a human rights activist group, found that preparations for the G20 summit resulted in the displacement of nearly 300,000 people, particularly from the neighborhoods that foreign leaders and diplomats will visit for various meetings.

At least 25 slums and several night shelters for homeless people have been leveled and turned into parks, the report said. The government has failed to provide alternative housing or places for the new homeless.

Last month, Indian police intervened to prevent a meeting of prominent activists, academics and politicians who criticized Modi and his government’s role in hosting the G20 summit and asked whose interests the summit would benefit.

“I can see the homeless on the streets… and now the homeless aren’t allowed to live on the streets either,” said Rekha Devi, a New Delhi resident who attended the Aug. 20 gathering.

Devi, whose home was destroyed in one of the raids, said authorities refused to consider the documents she provided as proof that her family had lived in the same house for nearly 100 years.

“Everyone acts like they’re blind,” Devi said. “In the name of the G20 event, farmers, workers and the poor are suffering.”

Home to 1.4 billion people, India’s fight against poverty remains daunting, even as a recent government report says that between 2016 and 2021 nearly 135 million – nearly 10% of the country’s population – emerged from what is known as multidimensional poverty . The concept not only takes into account financial poverty, but also how a lack of education, infrastructure and services affect a person’s quality of life.

Indian authorities have been criticized in the past for clearing homeless camps and slums ahead of major events.

In 2020, the Gujarat state government hastily erected a half-kilometer (1,640-foot) brick wall to accommodate more than 2,000 people ahead of then-President Donald Trump’s visit. Similar demolitions were also conducted during the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Some street vendors say they are helpless, stuck between giving up their livelihood for the pride of India and wanting to make a living.

Shankar Lal, who sells chickpea curry with fried flatbread, said authorities told him to move three months ago. These days, on a busy New Delhi street near the G20 summit, he can only open his stall on Sundays, when the police pay less attention to street vendors.

It’s not enough to make a living.

“These are government rules and we will do as we are told,” Lal said. “The government doesn’t know if we’re dying of hunger or not.”

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