How G20 preparations left thousands homeless in India

Concerned Citizens’ report reveals harrowing testimonies of displaced slum dwellers amidst G20 beautification projects. 

Published : Jul 28, 2023 18:59 IST - 4 MINS READ

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi digitally addresses the G20 Environment and Climate Sustainability Ministers’ Meeting, on Friday, July 28, 2023.

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi digitally addresses the G20 Environment and Climate Sustainability Ministers’ Meeting, on Friday, July 28, 2023.

In the aftermath of the G20 preparations, a wave of forced evictions has swept across India, leaving in its wake a stark reality of despair for the country’s slum dwellers. On July 13, 2023, the ‘Concerned Citizens’ collective, a group comprising individuals from diverse fields, unveiled a comprehensive report documenting the harrowing testimonies of those affected by these displacements. This crucial report, based on a public hearing held on May 22, 2023, brought to light the plights of people from various regions, including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Nagpur, Indore, and Udaipur. These inhabitants found themselves uprooted due to the government’s beautification projects, aimed at showcasing a polished image of India in preparation for the forthcoming G20 Summit. 

Prominent human rights activist Harsh Mander, former Deputy Mayor of Shimla Tikender Panwar, and senior journalist Pamela Philipose, who were part of the public hearing jury, jointly released the report. Also present were representatives from the ‘Basti Suraksha Manch,’ an organisation dedicated to grassroots efforts against slum demolitions, Shakeel Abdul and Akbar. According to the findings, the preparations for the G20 Summit have resulted in the displacement of an estimated 2.5 to 3 lakh people. In Delhi alone, nearly 25 slums have been razed to the ground, including settlements in Yamuna Bank, Tughlaqabad, Mehrauli, and Ghiyaspur, among others. 

Behind the veneer of beautification projects, a darker reality emerges - a series of distressing episodes of police brutality. Thousands of citizens have been left homeless as central government agencies not only bulldozed slums but also destroyed shelters meant for the impoverished. Shakeel Abdul of Basti Suraksha Manch expressed grave concern, pointing out that unlike previous instances where the evicted were permitted to resettle, no such option exists in this case. 

Instances of police brutality abound as people were compelled to evacuate their dwellings without prior notice. Harsh Mander revealed that these settlements were concealed from the view of G20 delegates. The absence of developed living spaces for the urban poor underscores the marginalisation of a significant segment of the population, relegating them to the peripheral blind spot of international attention. 

One glaring example of this “beautify the city and criminalise the poor” approach, detailed in the report, occurred in Vishakhapatnam’s ASR Nagar. Here, as G20 delegates deliberated the importance of inclusive urban spaces, a settlement of tribal families from the Chenchu tribe was deliberately hidden behind towering green sheets on the route to the meeting venue. 

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In Delhi’s Bela Estate near Yamuna Floodplains, residents were given a mere three-hour ultimatum to evacuate their homes. Additionally, authorities sabotaged handpumps, depriving the settlement of water supply and thereby forcing residents to abandon the area. 

Pamela Philipose remarked, “When you put up these curtains to hide the poor, you are also preventing access of ordinary people to their livelihoods.” In addition to being rendered homeless with no prospects of relocation, these unfortunate citizens were stripped of their means of sustenance in the aftermath of a global pandemic. 

The forced evictions perpetrated during the G20 preparations perpetuate a highly exclusionary vision of urban development. Tikender Panwar highlighted the detrimental impact of the “absence of policy-level interventions” on the displaced families. Despite legislation such as the Street Vendors Act of 2014, the situation of the urban poor in major cities remains precariously unbalanced as activities like illegal land grabbing persist. 

Akbar, an activist residing in East Delhi’s Seemapuri and associated with Basti Suraksha Manch, shed light on the police’s approach during the eviction process. Barricades were erected around the settlement one day before the demolition, effectively sealing off any entry or exit points. Unlike previous instances where adequate time was provided to seek court intervention, the police arrived at 4 - 5 am, instructing people to vacate their homes without delay. 

The evicted families were given a mere couple of hours to gather their belongings and relocate, with few having anywhere to go. Moreover, the demolition process was carried out under strict police surveillance to deter any form of documentation. 

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In the case of Ghiyaspur, situated in Delhi’s Nizamuddin West area, the Manch managed to secure a stay order for eleven houses. However, authorities circumvented this by arriving early and marking the houses covered under the order, avoiding their demolition while proceeding with the destruction of others.

 The affected families now grapple not only with homelessness but also with the loss of their livelihoods. In the face of this “state-sanctioned” destruction, these families endure twin challenges with no rehabilitation measures in sight. 

(with inputs from Riddhi Chatterji)

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