Thousands of slum dwellers in India’s capital have been left homeless and without livelihoods as the government demolished their houses to make way for the G20 summit, which is being hosted in New Delhi on September 9 and 10.
The residents of Janta Camp, a slum cluster near Pragati Maidan, the main venue of the summit, said they were given no prior notice or alternative accommodation before bulldozers razed their homes to the ground in May.
“They have covered our area with green walls so that the world leaders and the media do not see our poverty and misery,” said Saroj Devi, a 50-year-old cleaner who lost her house and her job. “We have been living here for decades, but now they treat us like garbage.”
The government has spent over 7 billion rupees ($94 million) to beautify the city and improve its infrastructure for the summit, which will see the leaders of 20 major economies discuss global issues such as climate change, trade and security.
But activists and human rights groups have criticized the government for ignoring the plight of the poor and violating their rights to adequate housing, work and dignity.
“The government is demolishing houses and removing vulnerable people in the name of beautification without any concern about what will happen to them,” said Sunil Kumar Aledia, executive director of the Centre for Holistic Development, a non-governmental organization that works with the homeless. “If this had to be done, residents should have been warned in time and places found where they could have been rehabilitated.”
According to Aledia, more than 10,000 people have been affected by the demolitions in various parts of Delhi in the past few months. He said many of them have been forced to live on the streets or under flyovers, exposing them to harsh weather, diseases and harassment.
The government has defended its actions, saying that the houses were built illegally on public land and that their removal was part of a “continuous activity” to free up space for development projects.
Hardeep Singh Puri, the minister for housing and urban affairs, told parliament in 2021 that 13.5 million people live in unauthorized colonies in Delhi, which account for about 40% of the city’s population.
He said the government was working on a plan to regularize these colonies and provide them with basic amenities such as water, electricity and roads.
But for many slum dwellers like Devi, who have lost everything they had, the government’s promises sound hollow.
“They say they are hosting the G20 summit for our benefit, but we have not seen any benefit,” she said. “We only see our suffering.”