G20 and Delhi: Slum dwellers rendered homeless as city ‘decks up’ for summit

Worse, the government has not proposed a plan to resettle the displaced

By Anuj Behal
Published: Thursday 11 May 2023
Photo for representation. Source: iStock

As the date for the G20 summit to be held in India approaches, the capital city of Delhi has been subjected to a disturbing trend of forced evictions by state authorities. Several informal settlements and shelters for the homeless have been erased or threatened with demolition under the pretext of “clearing encroachments”, “beautification drives” and “conservation of the Yamuna floodplains”, among other reasons.

The Indian government’s efforts to improve Delhi’s appearance for the upcoming G20 summit have had a profound impact on the lives of slum dwellers in the city, with many expressing anger and frustration as the government carries out what is arguably the most extensive anti-encroachment campaign in recent years. 

The G20 Summit, to be held at the Pragati Maidan India Trade Promotion Organisation in September, will have foreign delegates and dignitaries in attendance. 

Since the beginning of the year, hundreds of thousands of residents in Delhi’s slums, located near areas such as Tughlakabad, Mehrauli, Yamuna floodplains, Mayur Vihar, Dhaula Kuan, and Kashmiri Gate, are at risk of losing their homes or have already been evicted. Worse, the government has not proposed a plan to resettle the displaced.

Neighbourhoods affected

Source: Created by Anuj Behal

Cases of demolition

One such case pertains to the demolition of several homes and properties in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, a result of a petition filed by INTACH to protect 124 heritage monuments, including 60 in the park, from encroachment and defacement. Despite the lack of clarity regarding the ownership of the land and monuments, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) continued its demolition drive in February 2023. Surprisingly, a G20 meeting was scheduled in the archaeological park the month after the eviction.

On February 7, 2023, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi embarked on an anti-encroachment drive, claiming in a statement that this was part of “necessary measures to give the best facelift to Delhi in view of the upcoming G20 summit”. 

Following the clearances on the encroachment drive, on February 15, the DDA demolished 50 structures in Jamia Nagar, a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in the city, citing a National Green Tribunal order to remove all encroachments in the Yamuna Flood Plain area. Nearly 300 people, mostly construction workers, rickshaw pullers, and domestic labourers, lost their homes. Residents alleged that the demolition drives are being carried out with a communal bias, with Muslims becoming targets. 

On the same date, another incident of demolition and forced eviction occurred in Sarai Kale Khan, where the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) demolished a shelter for homeless men. Near the demolished night shelter, a park has been constructed where G20 dignitaries will be brought to walk, according to a report in the magazine Outlook India. Also, the shelter was razed to make way for the G20 meeting venue, the newspaper The Hindu reported. 

The demolition left about 50 people without a roof, although the administration has now made arrangements for their stay at another nearby shelter.

On March 10, the DUSIB demolished eight shelters located close to the Yamuna floodplains, leaving the homeless out on the streets. The DDA is working to rejuvenate the floodplains, including setting up parks and walkways, as Lieutenant Governor V K Saxena stated that encroachments on the eco-sensitive zone cannot be condoned due to the pollution they cause. 

Activists like Sunil Kumar Aledia claimed that the demolitions took place as part of a beautification drive to spruce up the national capital for the G20 summit in September.

Most recently, on April 30, the city of Delhi witnessed the most distressing and extensive demolition of the year. Early on Sunday morning, residents of Tughlakabad village were shocked to see a heavy deployment of police and paramilitary personnel, as well as large bulldozers, entering their neighbourhood. The demolition started immediately, leaving residents no time to remove their belongings from their homes. 

This action followed a Delhi High Court order on April 24, 2023, directing the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to remove ‘encroachments’ in and around Tughlakabad Fort within four weeks. It is worth noting that many of the G20 delegates are expected to participate in a heritage walk in Mehrauli in September.

Many still at risk

Many other sites are also under the threat of eviction. Around 60 households at a site opposite Pragati Maidan on Bhanu Marg have received a notice to vacate their houses within a month. Pragati Maidan is the venue for the final event of the G20 summit in September, making clearance of slums or so-called encroachment an important subject for the authorities, especially those lying just in front of the venue.

Instances of eviction in Delhi as the G20 summit approaches

Date Site In contestation with Link with G20 People Affected
January 10, 2023 Punjabi Bagh PWD NA 100
January 12 Mayur Vihar PWD NA NA
February 10-14 Mehrauli, Kala Mahal DDA The demolition drive to clear encroached forest land in Mehrauli, was carried out ahead of March’s G20 meeting scheduled to be held at the Mehrauli archeological park in South Delhi. 4,000
February 15 Shelter No 235, Sarai Kale Khan DUSIB Near the demolished night shelter, a park is constructed where the G20 dignitaries will be brought to walk. The shelter was demolished to make way for a G20 meeting venue. Sarai Kale Khan is also just 3 km from the Pragati Maidan, where the final summit will be held. 50 
February 15  Jamia Nagar/ Zakir Nagar, near Gyaspur Basti, Yamuna Floodplains National Green Tribunal According to sources from DUSIB, in a conversation with news outlet The Print, the clearance of one acre of encroachment in the area was necessary to make way for a proposed metro corridor. 300
March 10 Yamuna Pushta shelters DUSIB ‘Encroachment on the eco-sensitive zone’ (as per DUSIB). However, activists claim it to be another effort of beautification for G20. 1,185
April 30 Tughlakabad, Delhi ASI On 11 January 2023, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) issued an eviction notice followed by demolition of around 1000 Homes on April 30.  250,000

Data collected from secondary sources

Along with removal of housing units, the Delhi government has demolished a part of a makeshift school near the banks of Yamuna in Mayur Vihar, operating since the 2020 lockdown. 

In a report by Outlook, a PWD official mentioned that the department is under tremendous pressure to remove encroachment before the G20 summit. On being asked where the thousands of people would go during peak winter, the official said there was no resettlement plan as the land was occupied illegally.

The razed houses in Mehrauli’s Kala Mahal, Yamuna floodplain areas or the rumbles of the night shelter at Sarai Kale Khan bus terminals carry the essence of the necessary measures to give the best facelift to Delhi in view of the upcoming G20 summit, as stated by the MCD. However, the facelift has left approximately 255,635 people (till March 31) homeless, a conservative estimate, by forced eviction, while leaving the threat of eviction for hundreds of thousands.

It should also be noted that slum demolitions and evictions grew in Delhi during the preparation for the Asian Games in the 1970s and the Commonwealth Games in the 2000s. Evictions before the 2010 Commonwealth Games displaced about 200,000 people. The upcoming G20 event is another such clearance drive to bulldoze the poor of their rights.

Rule by aesthetics?

In his book Rule by Aesthetics, Asher Ghertner argued that aesthetics play a central role in contemporary urban governance and development. He explained how the aestheticisation of urban space serves as a form of propaganda that promotes a particular vision of the city, one that is often exclusionary and prioritises the interests of the powerful over the poor. 

The use of aesthetics in this way helps to legitimise and reinforce existing power structures, while simultaneously obscuring the social and economic realities of those who are marginalised by them.

As Amita Baviskar, a professor of sociology, also stated, such events often serve as a pretext for the implementation of broader neoliberal policies that prioritise the interests of private capital over public welfare. The Commonwealth Games in Delhi, for example, were accompanied by a massive expansion of luxury hotels, shopping malls and other forms of high-end development.

While this may have created some jobs and economic opportunities, it also reinforced existing inequalities and further marginalised the poor. In this way, the aesthetics of the Commonwealth Games served as a cover for a broader agenda of neoliberalism and exclusion.

As the people of this once-great city struggle to rebuild their shattered lives, it’s painfully clear that their elected officials have no intention of helping them. The only thing left for them to do is to pick up the pieces and carry on, knowing that they’re on their own.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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