No Mercy for the Vulnerable as Authorities Beautified Urban Areas for G20 Events: Report

A report, released by the group Concerned Citizens of India, collates testimonies of slum residents and their representatives across several Indian cities whose houses and livelihoods were destroyed to pave the way for G20 events.

New Delhi: A report collating testimonies of those affected by forced evictions purportedly necessitated by India hosting the G20 summit has unveiled a picture of particular administrative apathy.

The report was compiled and released by the group, Concerned Citizens of India in New Delhi, in an event that was addressed by senior journalist and The Wire‘s ombudsperson Pamela Philipose, rights activist Harsh Mander, former Deputy Mayor of Shimla Tikender Panwar and community leaders Shakeel Abdul and Akbar.

In May a public hearing was held in which representatives from Mumbai, Kolkata, Nagpur, Indore and Udaipur, apart from different slum colonies in Delhi, spoke the alleged brutality inflicted upon communities which were evicted by authorities with the G20 events in mind.

The report observes that one of the most ‘distressing’ instances of forced evictions that was covered at the public hearing was the demolition of homeless shelters in Delhi’s Yamuna Pushta area. In March, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board
demolished eight of its own shelters near the Yamuna floodplains, leaving the homeless with no option but to live on the streets. The report says that a shelter at Sarai Kale Khan has also been removed apparently because a park has been constructed nearby – a venue to which G20 dignitaries will be brought.

Also read: As India Prepares to Host G20 Meet, Delhi’s Most Vulnerable Have Been Rendered Homeless

This information takes on new significance with the Yamuna swelling to record heights and, resultantly, flooding parts of Delhi in July.

The report quotes Seema, a disabled mother whose living quarters in the shelter was destroyed. “The water supply has also been stopped. Now I’m just living under trees. I cannot move since [my] accident,” she said.

A family loads their belongings on a cart in case the bulldozers arrive. Photo: Shome Basu

The time between a notice and the demolition drive was little.

Puja from Bela Estate in Delhi also noted that demolishers broke the hand pumps so that they could leave within the three-hour window they were given to pack their things. “Many students missed their board’s exam due to the eviction that took place on 29th April,” she said.

The report highlighted that even the Delhi urban minister was unaware of the drive and sought an explanation from the CEO of DUSIB. After this, a new law was promulgated under which demolitions of shelters can only take place under the orders of the Supreme Court.

Shakeel Abdul from Basti Suraksha Manch said 250,000 to 300,000 people were forcibly displaced from their homes in the Yamuna floodplains, Tughlaqabad, and Bela state to prepare for the G20 summit.

The erection of barricades also cut off access roads to these shelters.

Sucheta De, an activist, is quoted in the report as having said that Tuglaqabad looks as if “an aerial bombardment has taken place, given the scale of the destruction.”

The report noted how in Nagpur, the G20 inauguration meant that slums were being hidden behind iron sheets covered with plastic grass so that they appear “green”. The city’s police commissioner issued a public order that no beggars must be visible at the city’s crossroads.

In Visakhapatnam, 5.5-foot tall green sheets extending for about 400 metres were been put up allegedly by civic authorities to cover the shanties of over 100 tribal families in ASR Nagar. Most of the people living there belong to the Chenchu tribe, classified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group in Andhra Pradesh. Ironically, G20 delegates in the city discussed the theme ‘Financing Cities of Tomorrow: Inclusive, Resilient and Sustainable.’

This beautification exercise not only affects people’s homes but also their livelihoods, as the report notes that despite being active contributors towards the economy, street vendors, it seems, are “unable to cross the parameters of aesthetics set by the state.”

Street vendors and hawkers were the most affected, they noted. The public hearing which brought together vendors from various cities, including Mumbai, Indore, Nagpur and Bhuj, made it clear that there wasn’t even one city where street vendors and beggars were not targeted during the preparations for G20, the report said. In Indore, vendors were asked to shut shop for 10 days by authorities who said it was a matter of pride for India to host the G20.

Mohammed from Bhuj in Gujarat said that only street vendors were asked to shut shops a week before the G20 delegation visited the area and were additionally asked to leave the town for 10 days.

The report observes how the state made victims out of the most vulnerable, emerging as un-empathetic. The report also highlighted what it said was “the abject failure of the judicial and administrative mechanisms to ensure adherence to laws and procedures guaranteeing protection to vulnerable populations.”