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Rubble and ruin: How houses in Delhi were turned to rubble before the G20

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  1. Amun
    Adolfo Arranz, Adnan Abidi, Anand Katakam, Sudev Kiyada and Sakshi Dayal When residents of a slum cluster in New Delhi's Janta Camp area heard that the G20 Summit was to be held in the Indian...

    Adolfo Arranz, Adnan Abidi, Anand Katakam, Sudev Kiyada and Sakshi Dayal

    When residents of a slum cluster in New Delhi's Janta Camp area heard that the G20 Summit was to be held in the Indian capital, barely 500 metres from their homes, they expected it would benefit them as well.

    Instead, they were rendered homeless.

    Some of those living in the slum approached the Delhi High court to stop the evictions but the court ruled the settlements illegal. Then city authorities ordered them to vacate by May 31.

    Homes in slums like the one in Janta Camp are built over years like patchwork. Most of the residents work nearby and have lived for decades within the confines of their small homes.

    Officials of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s federal government, responsible for the demolitions, say the houses were built illegally on government land and their removal was “a continuous activity".

    The demolitions started four months ago. Bulldozers rolled in on a hot May morning, with video images of the demolition showing temporary homes made of tin sheet being razed, as former residents stand watching, some of them in tears.

    The camp near Pragati Maidan, the summit’s main venue, is emblematic of much of the landscape in Delhi, as many of the city's 20 million people live in largely unplanned districts that have mushroomed over the years.

    In 2021, housing minister Hardeep Singh Puritold parliament that 13.5 million people lived in the city’s unauthorized colonies in Delhi.


    "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 and founding member of the New-Delhi based Centre for Holistic Development


    At least 49 demolition drives in New Delhi between April 1 and July 27 led to nearly 230 acres (93 hectares) of government land being reclaimed, the junior housing minister, Kaushal Kishore, told parliament in July.

    "No house has been demolished to beautify the city for the G20 summit," he said.


    The demolition of the Janta Camp shanties was a rude shock for Mohammed Shameem, another resident, who said he thought the "big people" attending the G20 summit would "give something to the poor".

    He said, "The opposite is happening here. Big people will come, sit on our graves and eat”.


    Dharmender Kumar, Khushboo Devi, and their three children were among scores of people across Delhi whose homes were demolished.

    For Kumar, who works as a clerk in a Pragati Maidan office, the demolition of his home and his family's eviction spells larger implications.

    "If we relocate from here, my children's education will also suffer," he said. "Here they are able to study because the school is nearby." Two of Kumar's children - five-year-old Srishti and 10-year-old Eshant - go to a government school nearby. His younger daughter, Anokhee, is nine months old.

    The family, which also includes Khushboo Devi's father, had lived in their shanty for 13 years until being told to vacate as "the area had to be cleaned".

    "If they have to clean, that does not mean they will remove the poor,” Devi told Reuters.

    “If the poor are looking so bad, they can make something nice, put a curtain or a sheet so that the poor are not visible.”

    As the bulldozers left after reducing their homes to rubble, Kumar and his wife began gathering up belongings strewn by the road.

    Their daughter carefully lifted a peach-coloured dress that had been thrown to the ground, along with everything else that her parents owned, and dusted it off.

    Two months later, in August, the family returned to a part of the Janta Camp area that had escaped the bulldozers, paying higher rent for a room.

    "It was difficult for my children to go to school everyday from the place we were staying in earlier,” Kumar said. “I want them to study and do well, we returned for their sake,".