Demolitions for G20 leave thousands homeless in India: Activists

New Delhi, May 24, 2023 (PPI-OT): Evictions and demolitions have intensified in New Delhi and other cities hosting G20-related events rendering several people homeless, activists have said. At a public hearing in New Delhi, civil society and community members shared accounts of the evictions and anti-encroachment drives. The hearing was organised by Concerned Citizens, a collective of organisations from varied fields. The activists maintained that as Delhi buckles up to host eight G20 events, including the meeting of heads of governments and states in September, more people have started getting eviction notices amid a series of anti-encroachment drives by different authorities.

Pruthviraj from Land Conflict Watch said, “India got the G20 presidency in November and people in Delhi suddenly started getting notices”. He said there are patterns in the recent demolitions, with the poorer neighbourhoods being more vulnerable. “In Mehrauli, 700 eviction notices were served, while 25 houses were demolished. However, in Tughlakabad, around 1,500 notices were served and around 3,000 houses were demolished as the residents were relatively more vulnerable,” Pruthviraj said. He pointed out that the houses or apartments of the relatively more affluent were spared in both places.

Puja, who now lives under a flyover after being evicted from Bela Estate in the Yamuna floodplains, said they were given only three hours to pack their belongings before their houses were broken. “It was next to impossible. Many students missed their board exams due to the eviction drive on April 29. Within a month, bulldozers were unleashed on us thrice,” she said. The area around the 14th-century Tughlakabad Fort also bore the brunt of the recent demolition drive. “Delhi has become a war zone. If you go to Tuglakabad, it would feel like the area has been bombarded,” said Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist activist Sucheta De.

Abdul Shakeel from Basti Suraksha said the Tughlakabad eviction was “brutal” and that he had “not seen anything of this magnitude”. “On the day of demolition, the police surrounded the basti, jammers were installed so that no one could share videos, the phones of activists were snatched, the nearby hotels and shops were shut and the entire basti was razed in two days,” Shakeel said. Former deputy Mayor of Shimla, Tikender Singh Panwar, said housing should be included as a fundamental right in the Constitution. “You’re beautifying the city and criminalising the poor. It is important to have housing as a fundamental right. The cities are being built with techno-centric and capital-intensive technology, leaving the working class out. There is no space for the poor,” Panwar said at the public hearing.

Lawyer and activist Anand Yagnik called the evictions “extra-constitutional”. “It appears that the G20 event has become an extra-constitutional event that does not abide by the rule of law. Such temporary suspension of constitution owing to G20 overturning high court or Supreme Court orders is unthinkable,” said Yagnik. Human rights activist and former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, Harsh Mander, said welcoming delegates from all over the world by expelling the city’s poor depicted a distorted meaning of beauty or development.

Pamela Philipose, a jury member of the hearing, said the aggravated use of bulldozers in these demolitions is a “symbol of brutality and cruelty of the State”. “It is sad to hear how hawkers are seen as encroachers, basti dwellers are seen as illegal residents and the homeless are considered drug addicts,” she added. The Indian capital has witnessed several anti-encroachment drives in recent years. According to a report by Housing and Land Rights Network in 2021, government authorities at both the central and state levels demolished over 36,480 homes, thereby evicting over 2,07,100 people from their homes across urban and rural India. The state authorities across the country had demolished over 25,800 homes from January to July 2022, affecting at least 124,450 people, the report added

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