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Delhi becoming an 'apartheid city'

If the hit film Slumdog Millionaire showed the extreme contrast between the dispossessed of Mumbai and the city’s rich, the saga of the 2010 Commonwealth Games is doing the same for Delhi and the country’s political system.

The Congress Party – which claims a lineage back to Mahatma Gandhi – presides over a state that has embraced market-driven globalisation with a vengeance. Where Congress once favoured the poor, small farmers and the trade unions, it now rules as the party of big business.

A major report into the plans for the Games by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) catalogues evictions and demolitions of informal settlements and slums in the run-up to the games.

Most evictions are generally carried out to construct roads, bridges, stadiums, and parking lots, or under the guise of city ‘beautification’, ostensibly to create a ‘world class’ city.

In the five years from 2003 to 2008 close to 350 slum clusters housing nearly 300,000 people were demolished and only about one third of these families have been resettled. Authorities have cleared street vendors, rickshaw pullers, and other informal sector workers off the roads, and destroying livelihoods of the urban poor. “Beggars” and homeless citizens are being rounded up, arrested and arbitrarily detained, the report says.

HLRN adds:

There is rampant exploitation of workers at CWG construction sites. This includes low pay, unsafe working conditions, lack of housing, use of child labour, non-registration of workers, and denial of social security benefits. More than a hundred deaths have been reported from the CWG sites.

Environmental impact assessment norms have been violated. Hundreds of trees have been felled. Rain water drains have been covered. The Games Village has been built on the flood plains of the River Yamuna causing a drop in the ground water table in Delhi. The river bed is a seismically active area. There has been a significant increase in cases of asthma and allergies directly as a result of the dust from the construction work.

Funds for social sector and development projects in Delhi have been diverted to the CWG, which are the most expensive in history to build at $7.5 billion. Judging by the poor quality of the infrastructure, huge amounts have been skimmed by contractors while others have simply not been up to the job. Engineering expert Pradeep Chaturved said:

In a hurry to complete work, the government picked (just about any) contractor to execute the projects. While they met the financial capabilities parameter, many have little experience in using sophisticated technologies and equipment imported from developed countries.

The HLRN report concludes that the entire process related to the CWG has been essentially underscored by “secrecy, unavailability of information, and unconstitutional activities”, with evidence of long-term economic, social and environmental costs for the nation, and specifically for the city of Delhi.

The network's executive director, Miloon Kothari, said that

even if miraculously the Games are a success, it is already evident from the situation on the ground that serious human rights violations affecting thousands of people across the city are leaving behind a debilitating social legacy for Delhi and permanent disfiguring of Delhi's urban fabric. The Games are a clear step in the direction of Delhi becoming an apartheid city.

Another Delhi-based NGO, Hazards Centre, draws on an analysis of debts incurred by cities hosting previous sports mega events, and it concludes that cities in the developed world have taken 20-25 years to pay off debts accrued from big sports events. It is clear that the burden on India will be even higher.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
22 September 2010

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