While G20 is being projected as a “national pride”, it seems the government is prejudiced about its own people, particularly the poor. These were the broad conclusions arrived at in preliminary remarks by a concerned citizens jury addressing the issue in New Delhi on Monday May 22. The Jury members are Pamela Philipose, senior journalist; Beena Pallikal, National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights; Tikender Panwar, former deputy mayor, Shimla; Anand Yagnik, Advocate, Gujarat High Court; and Harsh Mandar, rights Activist.
“Having heard about the atrocities and evictions since this morning, it appears that the G20 event has become an extra constitutional event which 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. What should we call it Amrit kaal or rakshas Kaal?” asked jury member Anand Yagnik.
A public hearing addressing the pressing issue of forced evictions in India took place on May 22 at Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi. Organized by Concerned Citizens, a collective of organisations from varied fields, the public hearing was to shed light on the unjust evictions taking place across the country, particularly targeting farmers, street vendors, waste pickers, and residents of bastis (shantytowns), as part of the preparations for the G20 summit and the beautification of cities. While the glitter, glitz and pride around hosting the G20 has become an exercise of showcasing the “development” story of the regime, the public hearing brought to fore what is carefully omitted, i.e., the brutal saga of bulldozers razing homes to dust.
While G20 is being projected as a “national pride”, it seems the government is prejudiced about its own people, particularly the poor. Jammu Anand from Nagpur said, “A judge recently said there will be a mega event of Civil 20 as part of the G20 process, and hence the people of Nagpur should remain in discipline. This was enough of a signal for the local administration to take measures to save Nagpur’s pride. The Police Commissioner issued a public order that no beggars must be visible in the crossroads. Instead of Gareebi Hatao they are now doing Gareebi Chupao. In Nagpur in the context of the C20 inauguration we saw bastis being hidden with iron sheets with plastic grass on the surface so that they look “green”.
The testimonials spoke of extreme brutality in the evictions on the part of the authorities. Puja from Bela Estate, Delhi said, “We were given three hrs to pack our things which was next to impossible. Many students missed their board exams due to eviction drives on April 29. In a month’s time bulldozers were unleashed on us thrice. They first broke the hand pumps so that we have to leave immediately as one can’t survive without water. Kids had to miss their exams to save their houses. We now live under the flyover.” Abdul Shakeel from Basti Suraksha Manch said, “The Tuglakabad eviction was so brutal, that even those of us who have been working for decades with such evictions, have not seen something of this magnitude. 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.” Rajender Ravi said, “It is not just the demolition of their houses; it is also erasing of their histories and all the roots and connections they have had with the space.”
Induprakash said, “On January 31, Horticulture department, for G20 related beautification near Sarai Kale Khan region, the shelter home which is coming in the way should be demolished. Thus an order was issued within a short time and the shelter home was levelled.” Jury member Pamela Philipose said “The aggravated use of bulldozer is absolutely a clear 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 and the homeless are considered drug addicts.”
Various testimonies highlighted how the G20 has come as a curse on the livelihoods that are most insecure and precarious. Anand Lakhan from Indore said, “G20 can be an event for them, for us it’s a calamity for the poor. Rahul Verma had a garage in Indore near Nakshatra Garden. His garage was removed as the G20 delegation was to come. He was resettled in an area that had no business prospect for his garage. Such are the realities of “resettlement”. He sank in depression and finally committed suicide.”
Mohammad from Bhuj said, “We were told that because of the G20 new employment opportunities will open up and tourism will improve. Such were the reports in the local papers. But the manner in which evictions and blockades were unleashed in the name of G20, it only spelt doom for the poor. Hawkers in Bhuj even agreed to shut shop for ten days for the delegation’s visit. But when they were back, many were removed within a month.”
Rekha from Bela estate said, “During the pandemic, it is us who gave food, we gave milk, vegetables. And now they are taking our lands and livelihoods away. It is the urban poor who suffer the most when any change takes place in the city.” Reena from Tuglakabad said, “My husband drives an e-rickshaw. Now after demolition there is no electricity. How will he even charge his vehicle? I have been on a hunger strike for 10 days. Am I not being heard just because I am poor?”
Sandeep of National Hawkers Federation spoke of the plight of the hawkers who are losing livelihood in the name of beautification. Some say when guests arrive, we always clean our households. “But does cleaning ever entail throwing the elderly and the most vulnerable out of the house?” He said, “Before G20 never had bulldozers used on street vendors but G20 is witnessing bulldozers on street vendors.” Listening to the attack on the vendor’s livelihoods, Jury member Anand Yagnik asked, if Pradhan Mantri can say he is a chaiwalla, why can’t we sell chai in the streets?
Pruthviraj from Land Conflict Watch said that “India got the G20 presidency in November 2022 and people in Delhi suddenly started getting notices”. He said there are certain patterns that are apparent in the recent demolitions and some are more vulnerable than the other. “While in Mehrauli 700 notices were served, 25 houses were demolished. However in Tughlakabad, around 1500 notices were served and around 3000 houses were demolished as the residents were relatively more vulnerable.” He said in both places the houses/apartments of the relatively more affluent were spared.
Jury member Beena Pallical said, “Even in 2010 during Commonwealth Games they made huge stadiums using 700 crores from SC/ST budget. Even then there were evictions and demolitions. Today, the government has changed, but the situation on ground remains the same.” Tikender Panwar spoke of the obsession of authoritarian leaders with beautification – Napoleon, Hitler and now their descendants here in India. He said that “in the 1990s as land got monetised, the poor were seen as obstacles. So the working class needed to be marginalized in the technocentric model. The poor need to reclaim the city.”
Referring to the testimony of Shah Alam, resident of basti of waste pickers near the Ghazipur landfill, Harsh Mander said that we do not want an India where someone’s house is burnt eight times and one has to build again from the ashes every time. This must change. The jury members said after analysing the testimonials they will compile a report based on the tribunal within a week. They demanded an immediate end to the G20 related evictions and violence on the poor.