Sitting in his shop, Munna Lal, 60, was absorbed in his phone watching a YouTube video on the success of India’s moon mission.
“Kahan hai kaam?” Lal said. “Where is the work? Since this morning, I have earned just Rs 40.”
From his shop in Coolie Camp, a slum of around 200 households in south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar, Lal sells paan, beedis, cigarettes and biscuits.
On most days, Lal earns Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 a day, with a bulk of his customers approaching his shop from the Nelson Mandela Marg in front.
But for the past three-four days, customers have dried up. The reason: the entire colony has been curtained off from the view of passers-by with a tall screen of green cloth. Posters and flex boards announcing the G20 summit have been stuck on the screen.
According to residents, civic officials placed the screen on the footpath to hide the colony. The residents alleged that this has been done to keep the locality out of the view of delegates visiting the national capital for the G-20 Leaders’ summit on September 9 and 10.
“They are hiding us behind this [screen] because of the G-20 summit,” said Mahesh, another shopkeeper in Coolie Camp. “Foreigners will stay in a hotel nearby. They will pass through this road. The government does not want to show them that there are slums in Delhi.”
The Grand, a five-star hotel situated on Nelson Mandela Marg in Vasant Kunj, is expected to host delegates from Bangladesh during the summit.
“It seems the government hates the poor and wants to show the world that we are a rich country,” said Lal. There are around eight shops located on the curve.
Other shopkeepers also complain of a dip in sales. For instance, 50-year-old Imad-ud-Din, whose vehicle repair shop is not far from Lal’s, said only a handful of customers have landed up at his workshop since the screen went up.
This is not the only place in the National Capital Region where authorities have veiled the poor to hide them from the public view, ostensibly ahead of the G20 summit.
In Noida, near the Section-16 Metro station, giant tin sheets on either side of the Delhi-Noida-Direct Flyway have blocked the view of JJ Colony, a poor settlement of around 300 households.
Residents say that civic officials installed the sheets around a month ago.
Here, too, residents complained that shops facing the road have been made invisible to those passing by, resulting in a drop in business.
“Jo dikhta hai wahi bikta hai. Par humein toh gayab hi kar diya gaya hai,” complained Sunil Kumar. “What you see is what you want to buy. But we have been made to vanish.”
The 27-year-old who works at a bike repair shop said the shop has hardly got customers since the iron sheets were put up four weeks ago. Otherwise on a usual day, he said, vehicles would stop at his shop to fix a punctured tyre or refill the air.
Mohammad Saleem, who runs a grocery store, said the barricades make him feel “suffocated.” “Customers barely visit my shop and on top of that we do not even get sunlight or air,” he said.
An official at Noida Authority told The Indian Express that the tin sheets were part of a beautification scheme. “In light of G-20 preparations, we are pushing to finish this work by the end of the month,” said Prabhash Kumar, additional chief executive officer, Noida Authority.
Several stringent restrictions have been announced in Delhi as the capital readies for the G-20 Leaders’ summit. All schools, offices and colleges have been ordered shut from September 8-10. In the central New Delhi district, cloud kitchens and all commercial delivery services too have been disallowed on those days.
But the burden appears to have fallen particularly on working-class residents and slum-dwellers of the city, say activists and residents.
“The Modi government wants to roll out the red carpet for world leaders but the poor people have to bear the brunt,” said Sunil Kumar Aledia, a workers’ rights activist, who runs an organisation called the Centre for Holistic Development.
Several activists also say that a spate of demolitions in the city, of homeless shelters and large slums, were carried out in the last several months in preparations for the G-20 summit.
A report by Land Conflict Watch records nine instances of large-scale evictions in the city in the past six months, “many pegged” to the G20 summit. “Official records suggest that nearly 50,000 people are affected,” the report says.
“First, their homes and shelters were demolished. Now daily-wage labourers, vendors and hawkers are facing restrictions,” said Aleida.
However, in many of the cases of demolitions, the Delhi government and other authorities have said that they were only clearing public land of encroachers.
According to a report in The Times of India, published last week, more than 4,000 homeless living under flyovers and on roads have been shifted to shelter homes in Dwarka and Rohini.
Harsh Mander, a prominent civil society activist in Delhi, said the city’s poor have faced similar challenges during previous mega-events such as the Commonwealth Games. “But this time, the demolitions have been extensive. These things tell us the government wants to expel the poor or hide them so as to signal to the world that there is no poverty here.”
Scroll emailed officials in the Delhi Development Authority, New Delhi Municipal Corporation, the public works department of the Delhi government, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the office of the Lieutenant-Governor, the office of the Delhi Chief Minister and the Delhi Police to seek comment on the alleged restrictions imposed. The story will be updated if the officials respond.
‘Not allowed to go out’
The roads leading to Pragati Maidan in central Delhi wear a festive look. The footpaths are spotless, with workers sweeping them at frequent intervals.
But for the daily-wage laborers who live in slum settlements nearby, the stringent security arrangements have made it more difficult to move around the city.
Mohammad Nasiruddin, a 45-year old painter, has not been able to go to work in the last three days.
Nasiruddin lives in the Hafiz Nagar slum opposite Pragati Maidan, the venue for the G20 summit. “The restrictions are severe in the morning and the police do not allow us to go out,” said Nasiruddin.
Another resident of Hafiz Nagar, Sumit, an 18-year-old toilet cleaner, said, “When we step out on the road, the policemen ask us questions and force us to go back,” he added.
Similar accounts were shared by residents of Janta Camp, another slum settlement in the same area.
“These days, every morning I step out of work, I have to plead with the policemen before they let me go,” said 35-year-old Karan Pal, who runs a gas refilling shop in Sarai Kale Khan.
For the last one week, 22-year-old Parvez has not been able to set up his chicken stall on the footpath at the mouth of the lane leading to the settlement. “The police are everywhere all the time here. They asked me to stay home till September 15,” he said.
He alleged that two months ago, he lost his shop when civic authorities demolished the stretch of shops and shanties along the road.
In New Delhi’s Connaught Place, “work is down” is a common refrain that you hear from street vendors.
“The police told me that there are going to be restrictions for three days so I have told my drivers to stay home from tomorrow,” said Kuldeep Singh, who operates a taxi service of seven cabs near Jantar Mantar.
Rukmani Mishra, a cab driver with Uber, said she was going home to Nainital for three days as Delhi enters a shut-down mode for G20. “But this would also mean a loss of Rs 3,000- 4000.”
“In the last five days, we have hardly got any customers,” said Panwar Kadam, 31, who runs a stall near Palika Bazar in Connaught Place. The vendors say they have heard that the market will remain shut for three days from September 8. “Ab teen din aur nuksaan hoga. We are looking at three more days of losses.”
All photographs by Zafar Aafaq.