Delhi intensifies demolition drive as G20 summit approaches; 3 lakh people affected, say activists

Demolitions have happened as early as 4 am; people are given little time before being evicted;
People earlier living in shelter homes near the Yamuna floodplains, which have now been demolished, are staying in makeshift cloth houses during heavy rains and flooding. Photo: Akbar Ali.
People earlier living in shelter homes near the Yamuna floodplains, which have now been demolished, are staying in makeshift cloth houses during heavy rains and flooding. Photo: Akbar Ali.

Demolitions of slums and informal settlements have intensified in Delhi as the G20 summit approaches, according to a section of activists and concerned citizens.

The government was extremely negligent and brutal to the poor, they alleged in a meeting organised for releasing the report on the evictions associated with the G20 summit, to be held in early September 2023. The document titled Public Hearing on The Forced Evictions Across India and G20 Events was released on July 13, 2023.

Panellists who attended the meeting mainly comprised some jurors from the public hearing held in May 2023, along with several representatives, lawyers and impacted people. Many of them spoke about their experiences. 

“Since the G20 announcement, I have witnessed evictions in a way I have never seen before. Before, basti demolitions used to happen around 10 in the morning, and we usually approached the court to obtain a stay. But now, this happens as early as around 4 am,” said Akbar Ali from the Basti Suraksha Manch.

He mentioned an incident at Pragati Maidan, Gate 2. At 4 am, the police woke people up from their homes and asked them to leave within 15 minutes. The two hours given after intimation have now shrunken to 15 minutes. They were asked not to keep their belongings on the floor as it may cause a traffic jam. “Where will they keep their stuff? No one knows,” said Ali.

Ali recollected an incident when they approached the court and obtained a stay against the demolition of 11 houses in Gyaspur. “Before, even if the court stays the demolition of just three-four houses, the entire basti would be saved. But now, they mark those houses with stay orders and demolish the rest.”

The authorities dump the school bags and books of young children while demolishing their houses, said Tikendar Panwar, former deputy mayor of Shimla. “Why? Because they don’t want them to study.”

In Tughlaqabad, the police stood on top of roofs and stairs to ensure that no one was taking pictures or videos, Ali said. They demolished 2,000-3,000 houses, for which they gave just two hours for people to leave. The cars people arranged could not enter since the barricades prevented anyone from entering or exiting. “So how will people take their belongings out?” he asked.

The demolitions in Tughlaqabad and Mehrauli are possibly linked to the heritage walks being planned for the G20 delegates. The Tughlaqabad demolitions, one of the biggest, have left more than 0.25 million men, women and children displaced, the report read.

The Delhi Development Authority both breaks the basti and the small things they live by, like hand pumps and water taps. Then, within two-three days, they begin development work, and no one can even tell there ever used to be a basti, added Ali.  

“They first broke the hand pumps so we would have to leave immediately since no one can survive without water,” Puja, who lives in Bela Estate, revealed in the hearing held on May 22. People from Bela Estate have been living there for over a century.

This March, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board demolished eight of its own shelters located close to the Yamuna floodplains, leaving the homeless with no option other than living on the streets, the report noted.

“I have been living under the trees with no water supply since they demolished the Rain Basera Shelter homes,” said Seema, a disabled woman with a young child.

Delhi has recently been seeing floods near the Yamuna river. During this time, those whose homes were demolished “are staying in temporary houses made of cloth. If the wind removes even a single piece of cloth from the front, they get completely drenched by the rains along with all their belongings,” Ali observed.

Harsh Mander, a democratic rights activist who works with the urban homeless, said, “I expect justice from the highest court of the land. I believe that the larger notion of justice should inform the decision of the Supreme Court, it is not the technicality of legality.”

Almost 0.3 million people have been affected, according to Shakeel (Abdul Shakeel of the Basti Suraksha Manch), said Pamela Philipose, a senior journalist. “G20 countries and delegates may not know this, and they must so that they can ask questions about why this is happening right now,” she said.

A lot of people said they couldn’t earn anything during G20 events because they were pushed out and told not to return, she added. “The Street Vendors Act categorically says that we can’t evict street vendors. But they have been,” pointed out Panwar.

The report also noted how the authorities used 5.5-foot tall green sheets that ran 400 metres to cover the houses of tribal families ahead of the G20 meeting in Vizag

“They could not have evicted people given the sheer size of the slums. So they just covered the slums with white barricades along the pathway so that they cannot be seen,” the report said, quoting Mumbai-based activist Shweta Damle.

G20 is not the first international event to see increased atrocities towards the poor. Ali pointed out that in the Mayur Vihar Phase 1, where there is Akshardham Temple, people were removed during the Commonwealth Games of 2010.

“They were told that evictions are happening because it is forest land, archaeological land, Yamuna riverfront land, etc. But when we mapped it, we saw roads from the airport and Pragati Maidan. So we think it’s because of G20,” he added.

Mander said the urban poor survives not because of state support but despite the state. “Your living is illegalised, your access to public services is illegalised. Despite all of that, people struggle and build something of a life. And that is crushed with extraordinary cruelty”. 

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