The forced evictions across India around G20 events

New Delhi, 13th July 2023: At the Press Conference organized by the Concerned Citizens of India at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, the release of the public hearing report shed light on the harrowing experiences of forced evictions across India in preparation for the G20 summit. The report was addressed by Senior Journalist Pamela Philipose, Human Rights Activist Harsh Mander, Former Deputy Mayor of Shimla Tikender Panwar and community leaders Shakeel Abdul and Akbar.

The report collates testimonies delivered at the public hearing where representatives from Mumbai, Kolkata, Nagpur, Indore, Udaipur apart from different bastis in Delhi deposed before the jury their harrowing experiences of forced evictions.  The testimonials presented during the hearing revealed shocking instances of brutality inflicted upon the affected communities by the authorities.

At the press conference, Harsh Mander, Human Rights advocate, said “these distressing events raise profound questions about the lack of basic compassion exhibited by the government. The complete absence of prior notices and the ruthless demolition of houses point to a severe disregard for human rights. The notion that these informal settlements are illegal is used as an excuse to deny these individuals their rights and entitlements. As a G20 delegate coming to India, I would expect to witness a society where the poor have access to their rights and entitlements, rather than witnessing their suffering in hidden corners.”

One of the most distressing instances of forced evictions discussed was the demolition of homeless shelters in the Yamuna Pushta area. In the month of March, the DUSIB demolished eight of its own shelters near the Yamuna floodplains, leaving the homeless with no option but to live on the streets. The shelter at Sarai Kale Khan, has also been removed apparently because a park has been constructed nearby, a venue to which G20 dignitaries will be brought.

Pamela Philipose, senior journalist and researcher said “Even in harsh weather conditions, people are being rendered homeless, without any thought given to their well-being. It is disheartening to think that in September, when India will be projected as a rising star, the government has failed to consider the ramifications of their actions. It is ironic that the same government seeks votes from these very people who are left suffering and ignored.”

In Nagpur, in the context of the C20 inauguration, bastis are being hidden behind iron sheets covered with plastic grass so that they appear “green”. There are reports of 5.5-foot tall green sheets extending for about 400 meters having been put up allegedly by civic authorities in the heart of Visakhapatnam before the G20 meeting in the city to cover the shanty homes of over 100 tribal families in ASR Nagar, located on a busy road near Vizag’s Akkayyapalem neighborhood. Puja from Bela Estate, Delhi said, “We were given 3 hours to pack our things which were next to impossible. In a month’s time, bulldozers were unleashed on us thrice. They first broke the hand pumps so we would have to leave immediately since no one can survive without water. We now live under the flyover. It is very difficult for children to study and carry on with their education. Many students missed their board’s exam due to the eviction that took place on 29th April.”

Tikender Panwar, the former deputy Mayor of Simla said “despite interventions like the Smart City mission and Swachh Bharat, it is disheartening to witness the lack of significant policy changes at the national level. Indian cities possess unique characteristics that require tailored solutions. Unfortunately, the response has been the expulsion of the urban poor from these spaces.”

Shakeel Abdul from Basti Suraksha Manch said “an alarming number of approximately 250,000 to 300,000 individuals have been forcibly displaced from their homes in the Yamuna floodplains, Tughlaqabad, and Bela state due to the preparations for the G20 summit.”

Akbar from Basti Suraksha Manch, said “the lack of sympathy towards informal settlements. The police have erected barricades, cutting off all access roads to these settlements. Previously, the bulldozing of these bastis would occur around 10 am. However, the authorities have changed their tactics, now arriving as early as 4 in the morning to carry out demolitions. By the time any legal stay orders are issued, the settlements have already been razed to the ground, leaving the residents helpless and without any recourse.”

These narratives underscore the urgent need for compassionate and inclusive policies that prioritize the rights and well-being of the urban poor. The government must address these systemic issues and ensure that the most vulnerable members of society are not left behind in the pursuit of development.

The public hearing was organized by Concerned Citizens, a collective of organizations from diverse fields at Surjeet Bhawan on 22nd May 2023 and Harsh Mander, Pamela Philipose, Tikender Panwar, Anand Yagnik, and Beena Pallical were members of the jury at the hearing.

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