An international summit the size and grandeur of G20 pretty much turns the spotlight on the host nation. The spotlight this year is on India and particularly the capital city that will host the delegations of over 40 nations during the final summit in December.
Roads have begun getting repairs and pavement walls freshly painted with prominent G20 logos resembling the ruling party’s election symbol across Delhi. The New Delhi Municipal Council estimates spending nearly Rs 100 crore for Delhi’s beautification, But the international applause that India intends to earn by giving the national capital a facelift has turned the lives of Delhi’s slum dwellers upside down. Tempers have been running high in the slums in various parts of Delhi ever since the government began, perhaps, the largest anti-encroachment drive in recent memory.
Lakhs of residents of the slums near Delhi’s Tughlakabad, Mayur Vihar, Dhaula Kuan, Kashmiri gate, and Subhash camp risk being homeless amid extreme winter and record food price rises in decades. Worse, the government has proposed no plan to resettle the displaced that includes toddlers and the elderly alike.
On January 12, Sunita, a domestic help, in her 50s rushed to her house under the Mayur Vihar flyover after getting calls from her family members. Over 50 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel with four to five JCBs along with officials with the Public Works Department (PWD) and the district magistrate had swarmed up near her home.
Sunita, who came to Delhi from Uttar Pradesh in search of work, has been living in the slum for over 10 years. Like Sunita, many others had rushed back home fearing it would be levelled as they had already heard rumours about the same.
Additionally, the authorities bulldozed a makeshift school ‘Vanphool’ run by an NGO for the kids in the area and a nursery while threatening the locals to vacate the place as their houses will be next. Naresh pal, with the help of a few others, had started this school amid a lockdown for underprivileged children. But the school was bulldozed on the pretext of illegal extraction of groundwater. Pal was handed over a fine of Rs 10,000.
“They did not even give us any time to put all the valuable items aside. When we told them that we have to remove the solar panel otherwise they would explode, they let us remove only that, everything else was destroyed. I am a heart patient, I had to get three stunts implanted that day but couldn’t because of all this. We all have been living here amid the debris since that day," Ram Kishore, the caretaker of the makeshift school said.
The PWD officials on condition of anonymity said that the department is under tremendous pressure to remove encroachment before the G20 summit. On being asked where would the thousands of people go during peak winter, the official said that there was no resettlement plan as the land was occupied illegally.
"If any eviction is to take place then there have to be public purposes. In this case, there is no public purpose. It’s not that they are going to build a school or a hospital or something in that area, so there is a total absence of public purpose. Besides, when you evict you have to follow the Sudama Singh judgment of the Delhi High Court. The high court held that rehabilitation is a fundamental right, just the same as the right to housing is a fundamental right. Now the right to rehabilitation means appropriate notice, it means consultation with people because you are planning to shift them if they are settled in a particular area. Today it's pure ‘government dadagiri and police dadagiri’ because they are poor people so you just take them and beat them up and push them out,” Supreme Court Advocate Colin Gonsalves said.
Over 20 CRPF constables have been stationed at BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri’s house ever since the locals and AAP workers began protesting against the notices given to thousands in the slums of Tughlakabad village asking them to vacate the place in one month.
Angry locals tried to block the road in front of the Bidhuri’s house - a three-floored villa - that stands out from the rest of the Tughlaqabad. Vinay (name changed) moaning with pain said he tried to stop CRPF constables from beating up women and was trashed instead, was getting first aid at a local doctor’s chamber.
Notices served to the residents on January 11 stated that the area inside the outer walls of the Tughlaqabad fort is government property and is a “protected monument area” and that any construction inside these boundaries “is illegal”.
However, Poonam (name changed), who has been living in the village, said that her family came here for work as the hilly area had limited employment opportunities. Smita (name changed), who also stayed in the Bengali colony of Tuglaqabad, said they came here amid the pandemic when they could not afford to live in a rented house. Both Poonam and Smita claimed they were sold these houses by the local sahukars.
On being asked the names of the sahukars, Poonam said, “You are journalists, you will take our photographs and leave. But unke khilaaf bolna matlab apni jaan lekar ghoomna, wo aayenge aur hame utha kar le jayenge.”
“We do not have anywhere else to go. If they don't want us here, they should at least help us get relocated somewhere else. My eldest son is in class 10th, his board exams are in March. How will he study if we won’t have a roof over our heads? We just want our children to have a better life than what they are living right now, but how will it happen in such conditions,” Smita said crying.
Locals also said there were several instances of clashes between the people and the police. Meena (name changed), who runs a tea stall near the main road said that police have even tried stopping people from going to work. A scuffle began and many of the men and women were left injured.
On 15 January, locals gathered in front of the house of MP Ramesh Bidhuri, to talk to him about finding a solution to the whole problem, but he did not come out of his house. Instead, the police force came there and forced the people to leave.
On being asked what would the land be used for after the anti-encroachment drive, the Archaeological Survey of India, in charge of Delhi circle, Praveen Singh said, “First, let the whole place get vacated, then we will see, maybe fence it. The 2016 judgment was given to the high court to monitor it and now on 26 November, the high court again after 6 years gave us the order to get it vacated.
“The PIL was filed in 2001 to get all the slum dwellers out. In 1995 Land and Development Office (LNDO) handed over the land (2661 bigha) to ASI. In 2001 someone filed a case that the encroachment was happening in this area, after that an anti-encroachment drive happened there but got stayed. In 2016 when the high court had to monitor it they superimposed a 1993 map and a 2016 map to see the expansion.2661 bigha land became around 1500 acres. The judgment is from 2016 but after 6 years on 26 November, the court again gave us orders to get the slums vacated,” Singh added.
Dhaula Kuan relief and protests
PWD officials issued the notice on 26 December to the slum residents of Dhaula Kuan circle, island park and both sides of Dhaula Kuan warning them to bulldoze their houses.
Indian Express reported that ahead of the G20 summit, the PWD is revamping the stretch around Dhaula Kuan and surrounding areas, as it connects to the airport, to welcome foreign dignitaries. PWD is redeveloping an 8-km-long stretch starting from Dhaula Kuan to NSG junction to Airport road.
A resident named Amit (name changed) said, "About 400-500 people reside here and some work for PWD themselves. Pehle jab wo log aaye the to keh rahe the ki hatao jhuggis, apne haath se todo warna police aake satayegi.”
After a case was filed, demolition stayed at Delhi's Dhaula Kuan slum. The notice said that shelter homes will be provided to them for a duration of 3 months and after that, they would have to find a place of their own to live.
After the notice was served the slum dwellers went to the MLA Virender Kadhyan, who assured them that he will help them in every possible
But the residents said no solution has been offered yet.
“Jo hamare vidhayak sir hai wo bol rahe hai G20 ke liye ho raha hai, G20 me matlab bahar ke log aa rahe hai to apne desh ke logo ko bhaga denge kahi pe?” Anita (name changed) a resident there said.
“These slums are very old and have electric meters too. The lanes are also cemented. Where will the people go? The honorable Supreme Court has also said that the people can be resettled only if there is a public purpose. I cannot say ‘removed’. I have been told that the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi has been doing the rounds in these areas.
The area falls between the airport from where the [G20] foreign dignitaries will come and due to security purposes LG is removing them. The people need to be resettled as they have been living here for a long time. Their livelihood comes from around the place. The kids study nearby. They cannot be uprooted and left to fend for themselves,” MLA from Dhaula Kuan Virendar Singh Kadian said.
More locations under the anti-encroachment drive
Such drives are also taking place in more locations of Delhi such as Kashmere gate, and Greater Kailash, just a few months before G-20.
Queries sent to Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, Archaeological Survey of India, Prime Minister’s Office remained unanswered till press time.
An elaborate questionnaire RTI request was sent to Central PWD to which the department replied: As mentioned in the guidelines for use of this portal, this facility is not available for filing RTI applications for the public authorities under the State Governments, including the Government of NCT Delhi. Since your RTI application is meant for a public authority under the State Government, the same is returned herewith. You may file the same before the concerned public authority under the State Government. Not Pertains CPWD May be Pertains to PWD. Please this RTI send to the PWD
RTI request to Public Works Department (PWD) was accepted and the story will be updated after the same.
Reply to the RTI filed with PWD stated that there is an anti-encroachment drive going on in Dhaula Kuan. It said the people displaced would be kept in Dwarka shelter homes for now and the whole drive is being conducted because of G-20 events.