Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The impoverishing Common "wealth" Games2010

The country’s capital is getting cleaner, greener and all set to show off its beauty and splendor at the Commonwealth Games 2010. Bigger roads and better roads, greener parks, better metros and what not! The Commonwealth Games scheduled to begin on October 3, 2010 is seen as a promise to leverage India's stock in the world. It is viewed as an opportunity to showcase the “shining” India, and establish the country as one that can host an event of “global standards.”

This cleaner and greener is happening at the cost of Delhi’s urban poor, who are evicted to make space for the Commonwealth Games infrastructure. Very shortly, let me outline the reasons for evictions. First, the construction of the games village on the banks of River Yamuna requires slum clusters residing in that space to be evicted. Secondly, Delhi feels it is important to show the world a clean, systematic and beautiful city. This calls for beautification projects and development of infrastructure like metro, buses and roads. Thus, the helpless urban poor of Delhi are swept away and hidden, to save the city the embarrassment of displaying its poverty. Who would want to see the hungry and homeless? Don’t people like that stop existing in a country that can spend close to 2000 crores on a 12-day event?

In November 2009, (while the “aam aadhmi” were struggling with a 14% inflation of food prices), the Indian Government doubled budget of the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games from Rs. 767 crore ($163 million) to Rs. 1,620 crore ($344 million). Several reasons were pointed out, justifying the need for a bigger budget. Despite doubling of budget, not a single rupee was allocated towards rehabilitation and resettlement of the evicted poor of Delhi. It seems like everybody is pretending like the evictions and demolitions aren’t happening.

The 12-day event that is changing the landscape of Delhi is doing it, at the cost of several lives, literally and figuratively. Late last month, Municipal Corporation of Delhi demolished a temporary night shelter at Pusa Road, leaving 250 people out in the cold, which allegedly resulted in two deaths. The Delhi High Court on January 7 requested the immediate restoration of the shelter and the protection of the uprooted families has fallen in deaf ears. In reality, the number of shelters for urban poor have reduced from 46 to 24 at Delhi. The Common Wealth Games is allegedly a reason for several shelters being closed down. The whimpish United Nations has made (muffled) noises about how the preparations for the Commonwealth Games should not be the reason to force the poor to live under the open sky. All of this does little to the great conviction displayed by the State to do full justice to this opportunity to conduct this world class event.

While such atrocities are orchestrated against the poor, what we see in the media is the honorable president assuring us thatevery effort will be made to ensure a befitting and successful conduct of the Games’ or a worried Sheila Dikshit, afraid of failing to conjure a magic “world class city” for the Commonwealth Games. The concern centers on the “prestigious” game, and not about the shameful acts of violence the city is inflicted upon its poor.

The “cleaning and beautifying” of the city, is an euphemism for demolitions and destruction of the “filthy” aspects of the city. It is a case of developing a world-class city, angering its own citizens. It is not that displacements don’t happen otherwise—India today houses maximum number of internally displaced people than ever before. But when so many lives are sacrificed for a 12-day event, it is more problematic. It is not that the displaced people are provided resettlement. A very small population is resettled and the resettlement quarters are so poor, that it brings with it tons of other problems.

Cities tend to present a hierarchy of legitimate citizenship and the poor are treated as illegitimate occupants of urban space. The policy and legal regime doesn’t stand by the urban poor, nor are their services given due recognition. The bourgeoning middle class is only too comfortable to believe that the urban poor are illegal occupants of the urban space, and remain apathetic to displacements. This makes it easy for the poor to be evicted (and if they are lucky enough, be resettled) according to the whims and fancies of the State. If at all evictions must happen, there is still a possibility to carry it out in a more reasonable and humanitarian fashion.

It is hard to believe that resettlement will happen- for there people who were evicted to make space for the Asian games in 1982 at Delhi, still waiting to be resettled. Come this October, international dollars will pour into India, celebrities will add glitz to newspapers and magazines and the media will celebrate and congratulate this Great Indian “success”.

All of this, reminds me of lines from good old AbbA…

“Winner takes it all…

The loser standing small…...”

It is immaterial who the winners are, at the Commonwealth Games 2010, for we already know who the losers are- the hundreds of the homeless, deprived and displaced whose lives are changed forever....

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