An Indian child studies as she sits outside her home in the slums of New Delhi. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)
WHEN former US president Donald Trump visited India with his wife Melania in February 2020, authorities in Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat where the former power couple arrived built a long brick wall hastily to allegedly block the view of a slum area and its poor inhabitants.
The step was criticised with questions being asked as to why the state of the slum could not be improved by the same money which was used to build a wall to hide them.
Three-and-half years later, something worse was happening and this time, it is in the national capital New Delhi where several world leaders are set to arrive in a few days to take part in the G20 summit.
When the residents of a slum cluster in the capital’s Janta Camp area came to learn that the mega event was set to be organised very close (barely 500 metres) from their homes, they were hopeful that it would benefit them.
The outcome was to the contrary as the people lost their homes.
Many people have been rendered homeless across Delhi in the months ahead of the G20 gathering and according to both the residents and activists, the exercise is part of the beautification work for the two-day summit next weekend, Reuters reported.
Officials of the Narendra Modi government, however, said that the houses being demolished were erected illegally on government land and that their removal “is a continuous activity”.
According to the Reuters report, houses in slums such as the one located in Janta Camp are built over years as most of their residents work in nearby areas and have lived in their small homes for decades.
The demolition drive started four months ago in May and as bulldozers were called in to raze the rickety and temporary houses to the ground, their inhabitants looked helplessly and some even breaking down.
The camp is located near Pragati Maidan, the G20 summit’s main venue.
Several of Delhi’s 20 million residents reside in districts that are largely unplanned and mushroomed into existence over the years.
Indian housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri said in the country’s parliament in 2021 that 13.5 million people live in unauthorised colonies in the national capital.
Activists and organisations that work for homeless people were not happy.
“The government is demolishing houses and removing vulnerable people in the name of beautification without any concern about what will happen to them,” Sunil Kumar Aledia, executive director and founding member of the New-Delhi based Centre for Holistic Development, which works with the homeless, was quoted as saying by Reuters.
“If this had to be done, residents should have been warned in time and places found where they could have been rehabilitated,” he added.
At least 49 demolition drives took place in New Delhi between April 1 and July 27 this year, with almost 230 acres of government land being reclaimed, Kaushal Kishore, the junior minister for housing and urban affairs, said in the parliament in July.
“No house has been demolished to beautify the city for the G20 summit,” he added.
The demolition of the Janta Camp shanties shocked Mohammed Shameem, another resident of the area, who said he thought the “big people” attending the G20 summit would “give something to the poor”.
“The opposite is happening here. Big people will come, sit on our graves and eat,” he said.
“If they have to clean, that does not mean they will remove the poor. If the poor are looking so bad, they can make something nice, put a curtain or a sheet so that the poor are not visible,” another resident told Reuters.
That exercise in Gujarat during Trump’s visit might not be ideal one but at least calls for lesser destruction for these poor people of Delhi.