30 Sep 2010

Delhi - a changing city

10:52 pm on 30 September 2010

Delhi was to have undergone a facelift in time for the Commonwealth Games, with a high-speed Metro transport line under construction, and landscaping and beautification works planned.

Stray dogs, slum dwellers and pavement squatters were to have been removed, as were cows, donkeys and bulls. There was also an ambitious plan to clean the city of rats.

Much of the development work was part of Delhi's long-term plans, with the Commonwealth Games acting as an impetus for the programme. However, amid the rush to complete the sporting facilities, many of the planned urban works have been put on hold.

Half-completed constructions have been shielded from public view with panels, while dilapidated buildings are being "wrapped" in a bid to disguise their state of disrepair. Many of the planned 26 flyovers and 18 new railway bridges remain incomplete.

The sheer scale of the planned city "clean-up" was also underestimated; plans to return an estimated 100,000 beggars to their home provinces have proved problematic with many regions, such as the impoverished Bihar, unable to cope with an influx of needy people.

In September, Indian media reported the government had devised a plan to relocate beggars to parks, which will be covered in tents and Games banners. Food and other necessities will also be provided to ensure the people remain hidden and out of sight.

Non-governmental organisations have been deeply critical of the Commonwealth Games development process, warning that the negative social impacts of the Games will be felt for decades to come.

The Housing and Land Rights Network has accused the Indian government of destroying informal settlements and slums, and evicting thousands of people from their homes without compensation. A Supreme Court petition enacted by charity groups to decriminalise begging, which has been banned since 1959, has been deferred until November.

The People's Union for Democratic Rights has also filed a number of court challenges over the rights of construction workers employed on Games sites, claiming workers have routinely been paid less than minimum wage and have been forced to work in unsafe conditions.

Official figures show 42 labourers have been killed in workplace accidents on Commonwealth Games sites.

Delhi has also gained an unsavoury reputation for sex tourism ahead of the Games, with police being told to crack down on traffickers and escort services.

World-class transport system

On the positive side, Delhi has gained a world-class Metro system, with trains assembled in Germany and flown in transporter aircraft to the city.

The train system, which has been in the planning since the 1960s, has overcome numerous challenges, including the construction of the world's second deepest Metro station.

It features five lines, connecting Delhi's international airport to the city and linking the business hub of Noida. Construction began in 1998, with the first line opened to the public in 2002.

However, with the Commonwealth Games providing a deadline, work has been hastened. Reports indicate 16 people have died during the construction of the transport system.