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G20 Beautification: Blossoming Tulips Cover Delhi But At What Cost?

The perceptive image of a ‘world-class city’ hardly allows slums to grow. It is against the ‘global aesthetics’ that determines the ‘beautiful’. So, whenever there is any event of global importance --- be it the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games or G20, the first victims of the beautification drive are the poor and the homeless.  

A woman sits on the bed amid the ruins of her demolished house in Moolchand Colony
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“Instead of “slum clearance” there is “slum creation” in Delhi. This in turn gives rise to domestic waste being strewn on open land in and around the slums. This can best be controlled … by preventing the growth of slums” 

The statement of the Supreme Court while delivering the judgement in Almitra H. Patel and Another vs Union Of India and Others (2000) certainly considers slums as one of the biggest impediments in the path of Delhi’s achieving the status of perhaps what American sociologist Saskia Sassen calls ‘global city’.   

The perceptive image of a ‘world-class city’ hardly allows slums to grow. It is against the ‘global aesthetics’ that determines the ‘beautiful’. So, whenever there is any event of global importance --- be it the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games or G20, the first victims of the beautification drive are the poor and the homeless.  

As India took over the presidency of G20, the most powerful economic consolidation of the world leaders, the efforts to remake Delhi again came to the fore. According to media reports, the slums opposite to Pragati Maidan, the venue for the G20 summit in September had been removed by Public Works Department (PWD) and Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) in February. The reports also note that the inhabitants are asked to shift to the outskirt of the city --- preferably to night shelters of Dwarka and Geeta Colony that can accommodate approximately 200-300 families.  

During a meeting to review the preparation for the G20 summit, Delhi LG V K Saxena though asked the officials not to remove people in a “callous and inhumane manner”, the consecutive eviction drives tell a different story. In a bid to make the Delhi streets free of beggars, DUSIB conducted rescue drives in Hanuman Mandir, Yamuna Bazar and Yamuna Pushta (near ISBT) on January 16, 18 and 22. The Indian Express reported that 570 homeless people, mostly beggars, had been removed from ISBT and were sent to shelter homes of Geeta Colony, Avantika, Rohini and Dwarka Sector 3. The rest will be removed by end of March, the reports say.  

Notably, the regions from where the beggars are removed are the places where foreign dignitaries will visit or stay. The creation of a visually poverty-free city is the major objective of the government, notes some scholars. According to the survey conducted by Institute for Human Development and Social Welfare department in 2021, there are around 20,719 beggars across the city.  

The razed houses in Mahrauli’s Kala Mahal area or the rumbles of the night shelter at Sarai Kale Khan bus terminals perhaps carry the essence of the “necessary measures to give the best facelift to Delhi in view of the upcoming G20 summit”, as stated by MCD. Notably, near the demolished night shelter, a park is constructed where the G20 dignitaries will be brought to walk. The reports of The Print say that a pond will also be created beside the park where the lotuses will bloom to visually appease the delegates.  

The construction of parks for beautification and the civilisational purpose of “morally corrupt” marginalised communities have been there for centuries. The Central Park in New York made during the second half of the nineteenth century had the objective of fostering a democratic society through giving moral and educational training to the marginalised community. Researches have shown that the parks in the US during this period tried to mitigate labour unrest by injecting middle-class value systems among them. And parks became the central point of assimilation where these middle-class aesthetics had been exhibited.  

The works of scholars like Sudipta Kaviraj and Amita Baviskar show the existing class tensions pertaining to the park as a space. Citing a case study in Delhi, Baviskar recalls how the poor while looked at the park as an open space that “offers some relief from the dearth of latrines”, for the upper-middle class it represents “beautiful surroundings for leisure and recreation”.  

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Research has made it apparent that the slum demolitions and evictions grew in Delhi both during the preparation for the Asian Games in the 1970s and of the Commonwealth Games in the 2000s. Urban geographer and professor of Rutgers University Asher Ghertner in his book Rule by Aesthetics has shown how the trope of environmentalism like ‘Clean Delhi, Green Delhi’ has been used to conduct the slum evictions. In the words of Ghertner, “This discourse tied deficiencies in environmental well-being and appearance to the presence of slums, largely through the legal category of nuisance".  

The Delhi High Court while hearing Pitam Pura Sudhar Samiti vs Union Of India And Others in 2002 said, “Delhi being the capital city of the country, is a show window to the world of our culture, heritage, traditions and way of life. A city like Delhi must act as a catalyst for building modern India. It cannot be allowed to degenerate and decay. Defecation and urination cannot be allowed to take place in the open at places which are not meant for these purposes.” So, the idea of a modern and world-class city doesn’t permit the loitering poor to claim the streets.  

While the Tulip Festival went on up to February 28 and entertained foreign dignitaries in March with its blissful sight, the homeless and beggars across the city lost their livelihoods mostly in a couple of days’ notice. The politics of beautification has rightly found its first casualty --- the poor and the marginalised.  

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