Various anecdotal evidences from peers and one’s own experiences reinforce impressions of Delhi’s transition to a “world-class” city without the transition to world-class systems. One aspect of this is simply how extreme the difference between the purchasing power of those at the top and bottom of the economic pyramid is. However, when one hears reports of a government’s conscious attempt to create a false image of being “world-class” by getting rid of the poor, these impressions acquire a more sinister shape.
A recent story in Frontline showcases the Delhi government’s “war on beggars”. The usage of the words itself shows how a welfare government’s self-declared aam-aadmi agenda to remove poverty has been perverted to an agenda of removing the poor. The article makes the following points:
- The Delhi government is sending back beggars found on the streets of the National Capital Region to the towns and villages from which they migrated.
- Delhi’s Social Welfare Minister has been quoted as saying: “Beggars are a nuisance, and begging has to be stopped. When we make Delhi a world-class city, it will be compared with other world capitals. One does not come across beggars in other countries. Why should there be beggars in Delhi?” In another interaction with the press, he said: “We Indians are used to beggars. Westerners are not. So, we must make the city free of them.”
- The government has invoked the Bombay Prevention of Beggary Act, 1959, which criminalises begging. It was not enforced until two years ago. The Act prescribes punishment up to 10 years for a person found begging.
- The universities in Delhi have been instructed to get their hostels vacated during the 12-day sports event, which means even students have to find alternative accommodation.
- The article has quoted reports which say that expenditure on sports infrastructure is already 2,160 % of the initially projected budget, and the Union Budget allocation for the Games from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports rose by 6,235 % between 2005-06 and 2009-10.
- Funds for social expenditure have been diverted to manage the Games. Funds from the 2009-10 Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan worth more than Rs.2,500 crore have been diverted to cover the CWG expenditure from 2005-06 to 2006-10.
Some observations to support my initial observations can be made:
Is it not paradoxical, even grossly perverted, that the Social Welfare Minister of Delhi considers it necessary to “remove” beggars instead of rehabilitating them?
The facts presented in the Frontline story indicate a paranoia to give Delhi a sheen of wealth and prosperity while taking an easy way out of combating major infrastructural problems that could have been solved using the Commonwealth Games as an excuse.
Even more perversely on this front, the government has chosen to implement cosmetic changes instead of improving living conditions within the city. There has to be a strong justification for implementing street-scaping instead of improving facilities for pedestrians, for demolishing slums instead of planned slum-redevelopment, for hiking auto-fares instead of increasing public transport facilities.
Criminally, the government has missed out on an opportunity to integrate clusters of social minorities with the larger population by improving roadways and transportation facilities. Instead of creating an enabling framework for the poor to work their way up, the government has chosen to create systems where the poor finds the city unaffordable.
All these contribute to the image of a government attempting to create prosperity by removing the poor. If Gujarat, Rwanda, and Cambodia were social progroms, the Delhi government’s actions constitute nothing short of an economic progrom against the poor. Its ironic however, that in our country (and Delhi), it is the poor who constitute the majority.