G20 Summit Beautification: New Delhi’s $120M Makeover Masks Escalating Homelessness Crisis


The newly polished streets of New Delhi now glitter with fresh tarmac, beaming streetlights brighten erstwhile dark pavements, bold murals splash vibrancy on city buildings, and blossoms festoon the surroundings.

But the city’s makeover, intended to present an immaculate face of the Indian capital ahead of this week’s summit of the Group of 20 nations, has laid bare a stark dichotomy. Despite the splendid facelift costing $120 million, fondly termed ‘beautification project’ by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, many of New Delhi’s marginalized have found themselves obliterated from the landscape.

Swathed in the glitz and glamour of the city’s transformation, the plight of countless street vendors and the denizens of the city’s overlapping shantytowns has been obscured. Their tales of displacement and severed livelihoods, stark reminders of the state’s questionable poverty management policies, have gone unnoticed.

While the government confidently projects an image of cultural strength and global positioning, critics argue that the makeover has swept the city’s poor under the rug. The 2011 census estimated a homeless population of 47,000 in the city of over 20 million, a number activists claim vastly underrepresents the true figure, which they believe is closer to 150,000.

Reports show that hundreds of houses and roadside stalls have been razed since the year began, rendering thousands homeless. Whole shantytowns were bulldozed, often with eviction notices delivered barely moments before the demolitions began.

Authorities staunchly defend these actions, labeling them necessary measures against ‘illegal encroachers.’ But activists and the evicted see it differently, asserting that it has only enhanced the city’s homelessness crisis. The scenes in other Indian cities like Mumbai and Kolkata, venues for various pre-G20 summit events, mirror those of New Delhi.

The activist group, Basti Suraksha Manch, expresses bitter scepticism. Abdul Shakeel, a representative, says that the urban poor have been devastated under the guise of city beautification and the summit is just a vehicle for using taxpayer money to further displace these vulnerable communities.

The G20, an assembly of the world’s wealthiest nations plus the European Union, of which India currently holds the presidency, is scheduled for the upcoming weekend at the newly formed Bharat Mandapam building in the heart of New Delhi.

A recent report by the Concerned Citizens Collective reveals that the summit’s preparations have led to the displacement of approximately 300,000 residents, particularly from areas foreign leaders are slated to visit.

In another show of government force, a meeting convened last month by leading activists, academics, and politicians critical of the Modi administration was abruptly halted by police. Attendee Rekha Devi, a victim of the residential drives, recounts the agonising sight of the freshly displaced homeless.

Despite promising statistics in the government’s latest report—nearly 135 million, almost 10% of the country’s population, elevated out of multidimensional poverty from 2016 to 2021, these recent actions seem to contradict any efforts to alleviate poverty.

In similar predicaments of past events like President Donald Trump’s visit to the state of Gujarat in 2020, and the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, significant displacement was also noted.

Street vendors, in their desperation, are torn between their desires to earn a living and upholding national pride. Shankar Lal, a humble street food seller asked to relocate his stall near the G20 venue, represents their sentiment aptly. The government, he vindicates, remains oblivious to the bitter hunger gnawing at the stomachs of the likes of him.


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