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Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Bane or boon? G-20 summit reshapes Indian capital

Millions of dollars have been spent to give New Delhi a glossy makeover for visiting world leaders

The Indian capital New Delhi has a significantly changed look as it welcomes leaders of the world’s richest and most influential countries for the Group of 20, or G-20, summit starting on Saturday.

Roads and buildings have been cleaned and painted, thousands of plants have sprouted along thoroughfares and tunnels have sparkling new murals.

Sidewalks are spotless and streetlights shine brightly – a glossy multimillion-dollar makeover for a city that ranks among the world’s most polluted.

Read more: Biden praises India’s G20 presidency

No expense has been spared for the beautification drive for the G-20 summit. The message is clear: India wants the world to see it at its best.

However, there is another side to New Delhi’s transformation.

Along the route to the G-20 venue there are large hoardings and tall green walls, many with posters of a smiling Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

These are also part of the beautification project but for one particular reason: ensuring that world leaders do not see what India does not want them to see.

These barricades have been put up to hide Delhi’s slums and their inhabitants. Then there has been a major cleanup that has impacted the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people, forcing many to leave the capital.

Gyayndra Kumar, a 29-year-old street vendor, is one of them.

Last week, officials told him he would have to temporarily close his business, a roadside stall selling cold drinks in an upscale Delhi neighborhood.

“They told me we can’t reopen until the G-20 event is over. I have no option but to follow the order,” he told Anadolu.

Read more: G20 summit begins in New Delhi amid concerns over final declaration

Kumar said he earns around 400 Indian rupees ($16) a day, just about enough to survive, so these days without any income will be a big problem.

“I was so disappointed. I had no choice other than to return to my hometown in Uttar Pradesh,” he said.

“The G-20 event is a proud moment for our country, but it did no good for me.”

‘They have a right to feed their families’

Sushma Sharma is associated with the Hawkers Joint Action Committee, a group working for street vendors like Kumar.

She decried the government’s callous planning for the high-profile gathering.

“A street vendor earns on a daily basis and then feeds their family. These vendors could have been a part of the beautification of Delhi, but instead they were removed,” she told Anadolu.

“They also have also the right to earn and feed their families.”

Abdul Shakeel, an activist with the Basti Suraksha Manch, or Save Colony Forum, said the most vulnerable people have borne the brunt of the G-20 preparations in New Delhi.

“The government is trying to highlight India as a ‘vishwa guru’ (world teacher), but at what cost?” he said.

“Thousands of people have been displaced and lost their livelihood. These are people who are paying taxes and that money is being used to host big events like this G-20 summit … Have you ever heard of such things when another country hosts the G-20? I haven’t.”

Surjeet Singh Phool, a prominent figure in the farmers’ movement in India, posted videos on X, formerly Twitter, showing a slum blocked off with green sheets.

He said authorities are “hiding the slum(s) of Delhi for the G-20 event, in a desperate attempt to hide the economic inequalities.”

Apart from covering them up, many slums in New Delhi have also been completely demolished over the past year, something that authorities maintain has nothing to do with the G-20 preparations.

Close to Pragati Maidan, the summit’s main venue, was the Janta Camp, which housed several slums.

It was cleared by authorities this year and has left hundreds without a roof over their heads.

Mohammed Shamim, a daily wager from the northern Bihar state living there since the 1990s, received an eviction notice earlier this year.

He said the camp was demolished just months before the G-20 summit, which makes him believe that this was linked to the event.

“Nobody cares about people like us. I now pay at least 3,000 rupees ($36) in rent, while I earn just 400 per day,” he said.

Shamim and other residents of the camp took the matter to court, but their plea was rejected and the demolition approved.

“No one thought about us before the G-20, so we are now requesting the government to do something for us once the event is over. They should help us resettle somewhere,” he said.

India authorities say the demolition of slums was not linked to the G-20.

In July, the government told Parliament in a written response that the Delhi Development Authority carried out 49 demolition drives in the capital starting April.

The Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry said the authority had informed the government that “no house has been demolished to beautify the city for the G-20 summit.”

Activists, though, do not buy it.

Nirmal Gorana, convener of Mazdoor Awas Sangharsh Samiti, which works for people rendered homeless, reiterated that Delhi has been cleaned up for the visiting delegates with no regard for those affected.

Livelihoods have been destroyed and people are now struggling for the very basic of needs, he said.