India has changed the look of its capital, New Delhi, substantially in preparation for a meeting of international leaders this week. The two-day meeting of the Group of Twenty (G20) opens Saturday.
The Indian government spent about $120 million on the New Delhi project. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called it a “beautification process.” But, many of the city’s poor say that process destroyed homes and small businesses, leaving them displaced and without a way to make money. They say they feel erased, treated like the many dogs and monkeys removed from neighborhoods in the city.
About 20 million people live in New Delhi. India’s total population is 1.4 billion.
Since January, hundreds of houses and small roadside businesses have been destroyed, displacing thousands of people. Dozens of poor neighborhoods called shantytowns were crushed to the ground. In many cases, residents did not receive timely warnings about the planned destruction.
Officials say they carried out the demolitions against illegal properties. Rights activists and the displaced citizens say the destruction has pushed thousands more into homelessness.
Now, New Delhi roads are newly smooth and paths are brightly lit. The city’s buildings have fresh paint and colorful flowers are everywhere.
The G20 includes the world’s 19 wealthiest countries and the European Union. The leaders meeting, or summit, will take place at a new conference center near the famous India Gate monument.
Similar shantytowns were also destroyed in other Indian cities where lower-level G20 meetings are taking place.
In July, a report by a rights activist group found that preparations for the G20 summit resulted in the displacement of nearly 300,000 people. Many were from neighborhoods where diplomats were expected to visit for G20 events.
The report also said the government destroyed at least 25 shantytowns and night shelters to establish parks in their place. And, it said the government offered no shelters for the newly homeless.
Abdul Shakeel is with the activist group Save Colony Forum. He said people’s lives are being destroyed to better the city’s “appearance.”
“The money used for G20 is taxpayers’ money. Everyone pays the tax,” he said, including those made homeless by the demolitions.
Rekha Devi lost her home in the project. She appealed to the government to save her house. She offered to provide documents to prove that generations of her family lived in the same house for almost 100 years.
The government refused to consider the papers and destroyed Devi’s home.
I’m Gena Bennett.
Gena Bennett adapted this report for VOA Learning English from the Associated Press and Reuters.
erase–adj. relating to a city