Behind the Glitz
Sadly, cleanliness comes with a cost; in the case of Delhi, hosting the G20 Summit, it has led to the govt razing the dwelling units of the poor in many areas, without any rehabilitation process.
The mark of a great city isn’t how it treats its special places – everybody does that right – but how it treats its ordinary ones,” Aaron M Renn, an American analyst of urban development, wrote in his book ‘The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City’.
With the main event of the G20 Summit slated to be held in Pragati Maidan in the national capital from September 9-10 and leaders of various developed and developing countries listed as attendees, the government has beautified several places of Delhi to give an aesthetic look.
However, one strata of society has been on the receiving end of the beautification process. Hundreds of slum dwellers, amid the glitter and glam of the G-20, have been rendered homeless. In the past year, shanties have been bulldozed in Mehrauli, Yamuna flood plains areas, Jamia Nagar, Zakir Nagar, Kashmiri Gate, Badarpur village, and Tughlakabad among others.
According to victims, their houses were demolished by the administration “without proper planning or rehabilitation”. Adding to the agony, they allege that the government is not hearing their grievances. With meagre income and almost no options, they are living under the sky. This newspaper visited several such places and spoke to some victims.
The slums at Subhash Camp, Badarpur Village, inhabited by rag-pickers, e-rickshaw drivers, and beggars, among others, were demolished last month. Some among them have been living in these shanties for more than six decades.
Vijender Kashyap, 38, who still resides there, says the situation in the aftermath of the demolition has been disastrous for many families. Kashyap said, a few days ago, a 10-year-old boy fractured his leg after a bike hit him as most of the affected families are living under a flyover across the road. A slum dweller, who didn’t wish to be named, alleged that police personnel even assaulted a pregnant woman on the day of the demolition drive. She delivered a baby boy later.
The LPG cylinders, under Ujjwala Yojana, were rarely on the site and hardly of any use as this reporter saw the displaced women cooking with wood. Many are more fearful about their children’s safety and well-being. Dayawati, a 30-year-old displaced woman, has been extremely precautious. Her concern is that children playing near the road may get hit by the fast-moving vehicles. If not a house, she demands, just a small piece of land, to build her house from the government.
“The police officials keep visiting the place and warn us not to make any temporary make-shift arrangements, as it will be demolished again,” said Dayawati. Several others are concerned about their daughters. “Young girls are the most vulnerable. My daughters feel unsafe sleeping under the sky. What if someone misbehaves with them”, says Asha Devi, who had been living in that area for three decades.
The family of Devi has made a temporary make-shift toilet, using bricks and tarpaulins. One of her daughters, who doesn’t wish to be named and is in her 20s, said that she is unable to sleep at night, fearing that someone may harass her or try to take advantage. “Sarkaar gareebi hatane ki baat karti hai, par hum gareeb logon ko hate rahi hai (Government says they want to eradicate poverty, however, they are evicting poor people),” a bystander commented. According to various reports, more than 150 families, who were staying at the Subhash Camp, were left homeless from the demolition drive.
Those residents whose houses were not demolished since they were ‘’pukka’’ are living in fear. Chhavi, a 22-year-old woman, who lives in a pukka house, said that officials have been warning her family to vacate the place as soon as possible, as it will be demolished in the coming days. Her mother, Sunita, asks where will her seven children go if her pukka house gets demolished. “We have been told to vacate within two months or else it will be bulldozed,” she says while trying hard to control her tears. Her family has been living in that place for more than 50 years.
In February, temporary structures built “illegally” on Yamuna floodplain areas at Zakir Nagar were bulldozed. As per reports, nearly 300 families were affected. Armana, a 40-year-old woman, who was staying in the slum area near New Way Public School, Jogabai Extension, Zakir Nagar, Okhla, said that after her pukka house was demolished, she and her family of five were rendered homeless with almost all her belongings getting crushed in the debris of the house. She has been living with her family for 15 years.
“They don’t even leave the books of my children. My daughter, Iqra, is in 12th Standard and she has to appear for her board exam. How will she prepare? We don’t have enough money to buy the books again”, she complained while sweeping the floor. Her 6-year-old child, Rehan, got his fingers injured while trying to fetch his books and toys from the debris. Her children no longer attend tuition classes which they were availing before the demolition. Armana’s husband drives an e-rickshaw. His daily income is between Rs 150-200.
One of the neighbours has been generous to Armana and allowed her to keep her belongings in his parking lot. The other affected people have also kept their belongings in that place. She has now cleaned a small patch of the area around the debris and lives there.
NGOs lend a helping hand
Several NGOs came forward to help with food, temporary shelter, and even legal aid to fight their cases.
One such organisation is Mazdur Awas Sangharsh Samiti. Its convenor Nirmal Gorana Agni claims more than 17,000 houses have been demolished by the Delhi Development Authority, Public Work Department, Forest, Railways and others, in the last year. Further, 13,722 people with documents and approximately 1,00,000 people without documents have been displaced.
Terming the demolition illegal, the convenor says, “The amount of money the government is using to beautify the city for the upcoming G20 Summit, the same could have been used to provide rehabilitation to the displaced people.”
A senior MCD official said it’s illegal to encroach land and all the demolition drives have been happening as per the law, and whoever will encroach land, will be evicted. The official didn’t comment on the rehabilitation process for the displaced people.
Anti-encroachment drive during Commonwealth Games in 2010
In 2010, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) undertook a drive to remove encroachments from the city ahead of the Commonwealth Games. “Those violating tehbazari (vendor) rules and regulations would not be spared and the drive would continue,” a MCD official said. The drive targeted meat and fish shops in Pusa Road roundabout and Rattan Puri Chowk. “These shops were sealed for violating tehbazari norms and their licenses were cancelled. These shops were de-sealed after tehbazari holders gave an affidavit in the court that they themselves would remove all unauthorized structure within 15 days,” an official was quoted as saying at the time. According to MCD, after three months from the date of de-sealing, the shopkeepers had not removed the illegal structures.
Poor affected in ’22 drive too
On April 20, 2022, MCD carried a demolition drive in Jahangirpuri of North Delhi. It said the demolition was intended to clear pavements, footpaths, and roads that have been “illegally occupied”. The demolition came in the aftermath of riots between the two communities during a religious procession. By the time the SC halted the demolition and order status quo, several structures were bulldozed. “We all are vegetable vendors in this lane....we are poor people, who work daily so that we can eat...we faced demolition for no reason,” a vendor was quoted as saying in a media report at the time.
What the MCD rulebook says
Under the Delhi Municipal Corporation Act, 1957, there are specific provisions that ban encroachments into public roads/ footpaths. These are: 320 (Prohibition of structures or fixtures which cause obstruction in streets); 321 (Prohibition of deposit of things in streets); 322 (Power to remove anything deposited or exposed for sale in contravention of this Act). Section 343 provides for order of demolition and stoppage of buildings and works in certain cases and appeal. The section also mandates that “no order of demolition shall be made unless the person has been given by means of a notice served in such manner as the Commissioner may think fit, a reasonable opportunity of showing cause why such order shall not be made.”
Areas where the demolition drive took place
- Subhash Camp, Badarpur
- Vasant Kunj
- Bela Estate
- Kashmere Gate
- Dhaula Kuan
- Govindpuri, Kalkaji
- Janta Camp, Pragati Maidan