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'Beautification for City, Graveyard for Us': Urban Poor Cry Foul as Delhi Gears Up for G20

Amid the beautification of Central Delhi, the urban poor of the National Capital are seeing ostracisation like never before.

New Delhi: A few metres into the kuccha (temporary) lane right beside the Geeta Colony Pul bus stop, one can see a flyover, and below it, the residents of Bela Estate, whose houses were demolished in March in the name of the G20 summit, which is to be held September 8-10. 

 Nowhere to go, the residents stayed put under the flyover. On Wednesday, September 6, some residents alleged that a few police officers arrived and asked them to vacate the area below the flyover, saying they would be visible to the foreign dignitaries passing the road, and that would not look good for the country. 

 "Are we insects or unwanted people? Is this not our country? Why does the government want us to go somewhere?" said 62-year-old Kanha Ram, whose family has been farming and living in the area since the early 1900s, just like most of the families whose houses were demolished. 

 The police and DDA (Delhi Development Authority) officials, as alleged by the residents, have been paying regular visits in the past few days to ensure that they were gone for at least the three days when the G20 takes place.

 "But, where do we go? Even when we lost everything, our fields where we used to do farming, our houses where we lived for so many years, we could not go anywhere as we could not afford it. If we had the money to go anywhere, why would we live under a flyover?" an anxious Hiralal, who faced pressure from the local police, told NewsClick.

 In late March, while demolitions were being carried out in the area, the residents said that government officials told them that they had to build parks in the area and show some developmental work before the G20 Summit in September. There is nothing in the area but the remains of the houses that were demolished or trees that the villagers themselves had planted. The threats kept getting stronger for the urban poor living here as September neared. Several weeks ago, the  bulldozers arrived and pushed all their belongings inside pits, said the residents.

 As of now, people in the area are living without any water supply. The tanker that used to supply water was instructed not to, there are no washrooms, which affects women in the area the most, and third, these residents are prone to diseases as they live in extremely unhygienic conditions, without any help from the State's end. 

 While some social media influencers and other citizens have been appreciating how beautifully the city has been decorated and hoping that it remains so, what did not catch their eyes is that as one passes Pragati Maidan (the Summit venue), one can see jhuggis (shanties) covered with tall green cloth and banners of G20 with the Prime Minister’s picture. Boards and hoardings of "Diversity" and "Inclusivity" can be seen across the National Capital, in the same place that for months has been seeing demolitions and the urban poor being shunted out in the name of the summit. 

This is not the government's first attempt to demolish these houses. For the residents of Bela Estate, Tughlaqabad, Kasturba Nagar, and the major places where demolitions took place, the common refrain was that earlier the government would try to remove them, but they would resist and ultimately be safe. 

"With the G20 Summit, it seems like the government has received a guilt-free pass to eradicate us from the capital, which they did so successfully. In 2010-11, when the Commonwealth Games were held, attempts were made to remove us. We somehow managed to live here, But, this time, the government is much more aggressive. Nobody is paying heed to the poor, nobody cares," said Hiralal. 

In 2020, when former US President Donald Trump visited India, there were similar instances in Gujarat. Slums were covered with huge cloth or raised walls to ensure the poor were not visible. 

 This time, in Noida Sector 16, near the DND Flyway, small shops and people’s homes have been hidden with grills and huge tin sheds. This was done just last month. The small shopkeepers said they had been facing major losses in their business as their shops were not visible to passers-by. 

 Near Mayur Vihar Phase 1, shelter camps were set up for people affected by the floods in Delhi this year. They have been forced out of the area, and told they could no longer stay on that side of roads and below the flyovers.

 Months before the G20 event was even nearing, areas like outside the Mayur Vihar Phase 1 Metro station saw painted walls and graffiti, and the sidewalks were rebuilt. However, all the shops right outside the station were cleared up.

 Until a year ago, Sudhanshu used to sell tea and coffee on a table. The young man had aspirations and wanted to set up a small shop there so he could also sell Maggi, cigarettes, etc., to customers, as they walked the Metro station. He finally managed to set up the shop, which had started running well. But in the name of G20 summit, his and several other shops were razed.

 There were some shocking revelations for the people living in Bela Estate. Some residents told NewsClick that they even had Lagaan slips that their forefathers used to pay to the Britishers. Others said they had DDA's word from the early 2000s when it made their land applicable for farming. And above everything else, everyone had filled up forms for the Prime Minister's promise of 'Jahan Jhuggi Wahi Makaan' (houses in place of makeshift huts). "Jahan Jhuggi wahi makaan to choro, jahan jhuggi thi wahi Shamshan bana diya, (forget about making houses where makeshift huts were; they have built graveyards instead)," said Naresh, who has been ill for the past 25 days and does not have money to get himself treated. 

 When the G20 Summit takes place and the city lights up as fountains rise, hundreds of homeless, helpless urban poor will be living in the dark corners of the Capital, unseen and unheard.

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