Workers at the CWG Stadium site. Photo Credit: SAMAR JODHA; Source: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main47.asp?filename=hub091010We_Who.asp

The previous posts (PART 1 and PART 2) laid out the context within which the spectacle of the Commonwealth games took place; however, the spectacular nature of evictions as well as the wide spread coercion of unskilled workers employed on CWG sites, presents extreme examples of ‘transient’ modes of existence. The poor of the city were not only disposed off or evicted as the need arose, but also were consumed as labor to rebuild, clean and service the city. Delhi displayed an exhibition of histories, traditions and innovative new futures while also becoming a stage for human rights violations, over-used and under-paid bodies of “footloose”[i] labour couched in conditions of extreme insecurity of everyday life. As the poor were displaced and relocated to peripheral areas of the city, they were simultaneously employed by construction companies to build recreational and residential facilities, urban infrastructure and ‘public’ spaces before the games. Reports have shown that construction workers were employed in extremely unsafe conditions causing numerous deaths and injuries. The workers were hired at wages below minimum wage and several thousand workers still await their meager salaries from employer companies (Basu, 2010)[ii]. An expert committee appointed by the High Court of Delhi – comprising various local and national government officers – recorded large-scale violations of labor laws and human rights at various Games sites and allied projects during the construction phase of the CWG (ibid).

"Staple Recipe: Breakfast cooked in two large pots on an open fire by a visiting cook consists of an unchanging menu of dal, rice and roti. No vegetables. No meat. Just a quick-fix meal before a 12-hour day." (Majumder, 2010) Photo Credit: Samar Jodha; Source: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main47.asp?filename=hub091010We_Who.asp

Under the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition ) Act 1970, and the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service ) Act 1979, the principal employer is responsible to ensure that workers are employed under safe and sanitary conditions maintaining minimum wages, over-time payment standards and adequate medical and housing facilities (ibid, 2010). However, the committee’s report submitted to the High court stated that all above regulations were violated, resulting in the loss of worker lives and several on-site injuries. An estimated 70,500 workers were employed in CWG related projects, wrote Basu in an opinion piece for The Hindu[iii], stating that in a survey conducted by the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) it was found that the employer companies saved at least Rs. 75-85 (approx. USD 2) from each worker per day by flouting the minimum wage regulations. Basu states that minimum wages in the capital are set at Rs. 203 (approx. USD 4.5) for unskilled workers, Rs. 225 (approx. USD 5) for semi-skilled workers and Rs. 248 (approx. USD 5.5) for skilled workers, per day, hence on an average, contractors should have saved “approximately 16-18 crore per month by non-payment of the stipulated minimum wages”. In the labor camps, walled off from the clean and green Delhi, degraded conditions of life prevailed. The unsanitary conditions of living in these camps can best be described as shack-like shelters built using basic building materials like bamboo screens, corrugated tin sheets and tarpaulin, with very few common toilets, seeping sewage systems and open drains breeding mosquitoes and life threatening diseases (Majumdar, 2010)[iv]. The abysmal conditions of living and working within the capital during the development phase of the CWG, presents an alarming example of the level of insecurity and exploitation experienced on a daily basis by these transient populations.

"Life in a Shed"; Interiors of living spaces within the worker colonies. Photo Credit: Samar Jodha; Source: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main47.asp?filename=hub091010We_Who.asp

To add to these extreme conditions the Delhi High Court under the influence of the “Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 installed “mobile courts” on the streets of Delhi. These were mobile vans equipped with a magistrate, a lawyer and a security camera planted on top of the van to capture the beggars of Delhi in the act of begging only to arrest them, bring them to court (inside the van) and impeach them on the spot. A one-step trial! At the end of the trial, the accused is given a choice of paying an exorbitant fine or being taken to jail (Buncombe, 2010)[v]. In some cases truck loads of “beggars” (or merely people in ‘rags’) were captured and sent back to the States they came from, and the ones who were arrested were sent to one of 12 beggar jails on the outskirts of the city (ibid, 2010).

It is not hard to tell that this effort of the Delhi government and Police Department is exercised at policing the streets of Delhi and clearing them off any destitute, hungry, poor figures that may be spotted, rather than to prevent beggary. Stories from the prisons of Delhi reek of injustice and inhumane conditions of life, where poor street vendors and homeless day workers have been falsely convicted and imprisoned. Officials from the Social Welfare Department stated that if the beggar is a first-time offender they are released with a warning, but repeat offenders are sentenced up to three years in these prisons (ibid, 2010). Here the street, the prison, the truck drive back to a deprived land and the life-threatening journey back to the city are all part of a connected circuit of destinations within these transient geographies.

At the onset of the Commonwealth games, redevelopment projects were seen as planning mechanisms to segregate the poor towards the margins of the vastly expanding city (Rao, 2010)[vi], showcasing a new city – clean, green and prosperous! The process of “creative destruction” (Harvey, 2008 as cited in Rao, 2010, p. 403), constantly marginalizing the poor of the city to locations as far as 20-50 km [10-25 mi] (Gupta, 2010)[vii] from the central city further spatialized class segregation, “unilaterally downloading the costs of development onto the service class” (Rao, 2010, p. 403). Until 2010, more than 7,000 slum households have been evicted from various parts of Delhi, and relocated in resettlement colonies in Savda Ghevra, West Delhi, about 30 km from the city centre. Out of all the evicted slum dwellers, about 60% of the evictees failed to produce proof of residency before 1998 and another 20% failed to build a dwelling on the allotted land within the stipulated 3 years, hence lost their awarded land title. The remaining 20% evictees who could prove residency were compensated with a 10-year lease for a 12-18 sq.m (120-180 sq.ft) plot size for their lost homes (ibid: p.409). Hence close to 80% of the families evicted from East Delhi were left homeless and at the mercy of the street and other informal lives.

Rao’s study of the Savda Ghevra resettlement colony stated that most people living there had to trace their paths back to the city to earn a subsistence living. Since they were engaged with some informal/ casual work like tailoring, food stall vendors, domestic or maintenance work, which were hard to find around their disconnected suburban colonies, going back to East Delhi during the day was the only option left for most of them. In April 2010, an unannounced brigade of the city’s demolition squad arrived to raze all the illegal dwelling units built, destroying approximately 100 newly built homes. It is believed that the slum dwellers informally bought plots of land from local real-estate agents, paying a sum of about Rs. 15,000, to acquire some space in the city. “Buying, selling, possessing or defending a plot is a condition of negotiations” (ibid: p. 411). Partaking in this negotiation, the “illegal” residents of Savda Ghevra were evicted yet again. After months of building physical, social and economic ties, setting up affordable markets like the “Saturday markets” and “Tuesday markets” the displaced were displaced again, and made to hunt for other avenues of temporary security.

“Resettlement schemes are what may appear like the benevolent side of a policy of slum eradication. They constitute efforts to accommodate the labor class in the city through a combination of ‘gift’ and discipline. The state provides plots to entice poor migrants to abstain from ‘illegal’ land capture. A minimal State investment is burdened with the dream of a huge transformation.” (Rao, 2010, p.413)

Urban development in India is predicated on two main factors: economic development and global competition (Banerjee-Guha, 2008)[viii]. Dupont argues that the major benefit of resettlement to local interest groups is the economic value of the evacuated land, which can be used for other industrial, commercial or service uses in the city. Here, redevelopment is used as a vehicle to construct new value over areas infested by squalor and informality to present a new image to a global society. By bringing in more infrastructures, better civic facilities and clearing off “urban nuisances” from the city, land value (or the bidding rent of land) increases (O’Sullivan, 2009)[ix], increasing property rates and making more land available to the real-estate market. If a cost benefit analysis is conducted, state Khosla & Jha (as cited in Dupont, 2008, p. 82)[x] there could be three clear benefits:

“(1) Land value of evacuated site for commercial/development use, (2) revenue flow in terms of net taxes and charges [for the civic amenities] to the city managers, (3) employment generation from the development projects in the evacuated sites.”

However, when conducting a subsequent cost analysis in terms of the costs incurred by the city in procuring land for resettlement, providing adequate civic amenities and providing houses for the evictees the costs exceed the benefits and these schemes are highly unviable (ibid: p.82). What remain unaccounted within this argument, however, are the social costs borne by the thousands who lie engulfed by this perpetual experience of transience moved from one location of temporary legality to another.

“Resettled populations are reminded that poverty will continue to render them vulnerable. While the police action may be defended as a move against a major land scam, it does not eliminate illegality or eradicate informality. The power of the act stems from the spectacle of violence that overrides all rules – formal and informal – while reordering the urban landscape according to the state’s own whimsical desires” (Rao 2010: 414)


During this period of ‘urban restructuring’ in Delhi several thousand poor families lost their homes, lives and livelihoods. Rampant evictions carried out informally by the various disparate arms of the state – one department housing the poor and the other evicting them – illustrate this condition of transience within the city. The spectacular nature of the games influenced the spectacular nature of violence exercised over the poor; all rules seemed organic and bendable within the power-nexus of state and private capital. The city became a playing field owned by the nexus, rules of the game set by the nexus, the players selected, shifted, and shrouded as pleased, producing a transient class of “second class citizens” (Rao, 2010).

The global city model is a placeless conception built on fallacies of “world-class” standards. Developers of these projects often advertize ‘renewed lifestyles’, restoring ‘self-confidence’, ‘civic pride’, ‘national identity’ (Greene, 2003, p.166)[xi] as coveted values for the affording classes. These sought after imaginations in turn, produce consent amongst the affording classes, disengaging their constructed realities from the realities of those displaced (Meerman, 2009). As seen in the case of Delhi, these global imaginations are important planning tools that aid the process of development, proposing planning models that make land more “valuable”, spatializing capital (Bannerjee-Guha, 2008, p. 52) classically described as the process of accumulation by dispossession (Harvey, 2003)[xii].

Transient spaces blur the boundary of city and territory to a de-territorialized space based on shear insecurity and temporality of life. The spectacle city of New Delhi can be studied as a case to draw certain examples, to track the lives of the poor and the trajectories they traverse, based on labor opportunities and forced evictions, in order to visualize fragments of the transient space. Here, resettlement colonies, night shelters, or informal pavement dwellings are temporary points of halt amidst a longer and tenuous course of life. Formal solutions for the problems associated with these temporary housing spaces may relieve the extreme conditions associated with them but insecurity and evictions will always hover above them as specters of political power and private capital. As long as planning practices are dictated by the informal allocation of power to private capital, these specters will continue to reside within the prescribed solutions.

This paper is part of a larger body of work that deals with some of these questions of continuous insecurity of shelter, food, employment, and citizenship; and what these mean for planners and urban practitioners invested in issues of social justice, affordable housing and community development. Extending these observations to mega-development projects like Special Economic Zones[xiii], Big Dams, Highways, Metros, and Private City enclaves, the overall landscape of insecurity and transience seems vast and more complex. Moreover, the diversity of issues experienced at both macro and micro scales present a ground of challenges and creative thinking for urban practitioners to rearticulate for themselves, their core values and institutions. Finally, as Polanyi (1957) states, “laissez-faire is planned; planning is not”!

[i] “Footloose” labor a term defined Jan Breman (1996), in an extensive anthropological study grounded in India. “Beginning his local-level research in two villages in south Gujarat, the author discusses the mobilization of casual labour, which is hired and fired according to the need of the moment, and transferred for the duration of the job to destinations far away from the home area.”

[ii] Basu, M. (2010, October 27). For whom the bell tolls. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.editorialjunction.com/opinions/for-whom-the-bell-tolls-moushumi-basu/

[iii] The Hindu is an Indian Daily Newspaper published in Chennai since 1878.

[iv] Majumdar, R. (2010, October 9). We, who built your games. Tahelka Magazine. 7(40) Retrieved from http://www.tehelka.com/story_main47.asp?filename=hub091010We_Who.asp

[v] Buncombe, A. (2010, March 3). All aboard Delhi’s beggar express. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/all-aboard-delhis-beggar-express-1914922.html

[vi] Rao, U. (2010). Making the Global City: Urban citizenship at the margins of Delhi. Ethnos, 75(4), 402—424.

[vii] Gupta, D. (2010, October 6). Games city plays with the poor. India Today. Retrieved from http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/115285/columns/games-city-plays-with-the-poor.html

[viii] Banerjee-Guha, S. (2008). Space relations of capital and significance of new economic enclaves: SEZs in India. Economic and Political Weekly, 43(47), 51—59.

[ix] O’Sullivan, A. (2009). Urban Economics (7th ed.). Singapore, Asia: The McGraw Hill Companies

[x] Dupont, V. (2008). Slum demolitions in Delhi since the 1990s: An appraisal. Economic and Political Weekly, 43(28), 79—87.

[xi] Greene, J. S. (2003). Staged Cities: Mega-events, slum clearance and global capital. Yale Human Rights and Development L. J. , 6(1), 161—187.

[xii] Harvey, D. (2008). The right to the city. New Left Review, 53, 23—40.

[xiii] Special Economic Zones are like Export Processing Zones that are defined as exclusionary zones, that confirm to the laws that are defined by the SEZ Act, 2005 unlike other industries in the rest of the country.

3 thoughts on “The Cycle of Evictions and Re-locations: PART 3

  1. Hello,

    My name is Anna Reed and I am a photojournalism student from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This May, myself ten other students and two professors will be coming to Delhi to document and photograph life in India specifically in Delhi and rural areas around Delhi.

    I would like to know more about the evictions of people in slum areas. Your post was very well done and hopefully make a difference, and that is what I hope to do with my photojournalism.

    Can you please give us any helpful information you might have about the prime places to visit or the best people to meet with to work on stories of slum evictions? I’d love to meet with you or other “favelissues” officers or representatives, if possible, when we are there too.

    Here are some links for UNL photojournalism projects that are completed and in progress. Hopefully they will give you more of a sense of the kind of work we would like to do.


    Thank you so much for your time,

    -Anna Reed


    Portfolio: annareedphotography.com
    Blog: aereed.wordpress.com

  2. Hi Anna,

    Thank you for generous comments and interest in my work. I would be very happy to help you with whatever information I have. You can contact me at rangwala.lubaina@gmail.com.
    I am not a resident of Delhi, and in fact my masters work was probably my attempt of understanding and learning about Delhi, so I can not claim any experience or authority of knowledge beyond what I covered through my own work. I am still doing some affiliated work on Delhi but not primarily focused on slum evictions. I can share my work and references with you through email.

    I live in Mumbai and would be happy to meet you and your team if at all Mumbai is on your travel map as well. But if that doesn’t work, I can definitely give you a list of agencies, urban researchers and friends involved in similar work- whom, you could contact and get a better sense of the field realities.

    Please send me your contact information and I will get in touch with you thereafter.


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