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Commonwealth or common woe?

Posted on: December 16, 2011

How Commonwealth Games had threatened to bring life to a near standstill in the capital.

Mani Shankar Aiyar has made quite a few new friends in Delhi. The member of Parliament may well have irked the Congress with his critical comments on the Commonwealth Games but, like him, the Delhi denizen can’t wait for the event to get over. The much touted Games threaten to bring life to a standstill in the city. From office commuter to construction worker, from panhandlers to schoolchildren, people are already reeling under the weight of the Rs 11,494-crore extravaganza. Here are some who are, or will be, affected by the Games, estimated to attract 1,00,000 international visitors and 5,000 sportspeople.

LIFE IS UGLY

For the average Delhi resident, life’s gone topsy-turvy. Construction on the roads is leading to traffic jams which mean long commuting hours. The city’s popular downtown market spot — Connaught Place — is like a war zone, with deep craters everywhere. Digging across the city — for new roads, flyovers, metro lines and pavements — has led to disconnected phone and Internet lines in many areas. Bus stops have been dismantled and parking areas are being taken over by civic authorities for the Games.

Though chief minister Sheila Dikshit promises that all rubble will be removed, people are more worried about the bigger inconveniences they’ll face during the 12 days of the grand event, beginning on October 3.

Major roads will be blocked to ease the movement of delegates from one venue to the other. Schools have been ordered shut from October 1-17 to ensure no school buses ply on the roads during the Games, disrupting traffic. Some schools cut down on their summer vacation to factor in the October break. “We are also working on Saturdays to make up for the loss,” says Tagore International School principal Madhulika Sen.

EXTRA WORK, LOW WAGES

Sixteen-year-old Arjun Ahirwal is gulping down his lunch — daal and chawal— in the tiny makeshift brick hut he shares with four others at the Games Village on the banks of the Yamuna. He has been working for five hours, from eight in the morning, and is ravenous. After an hour-long break, he will be back to carrying sand and breaking bricks till 6pm. The unskilled labourer from Jhansi, Madhya Pradesh, gets Rs 130 for eight hours of work — much less than the Rs 203 fixed by the Delhi government.

Since he is not registered with the Delhi Construction Workers Welfare Board (DCWWB) — which is mandatory for construction workers — he cannot fight for his wages, or ask for the health and other benefits he is entitled to. “The contractors deliberately do not register these labourers to deprive them of their benefits,” alleges lawyer Colin Gonsalves, who has been fighting for the workers on behalf of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) in court.

Responding to a PIL filed by the PUDR, the Delhi High Court in February ordered the state government to register 17,000 labourers. But the Delhi Legal Services Authority, which is monitoring the registration process, says that only about 10 per cent of them have been registered so far.

The chief minister insists that the workers’ problems will be resolved. “The labour commissioner will look into issues such as safety and living conditions, and necessary measures will be taken,” she says to The Telegraph. But she adds that the registration of migrant labourers will take more time.

The sight of children working at the sites is not uncommon either. Chhotu, 14, says he came to Delhi with his uncle from Muzaffarpur in Bihar five months ago. He carries sand and cuts bricks at the Village site. The Games authorities pass the buck when questioned about the violation of labour laws. “It is the job of the employer — realtors Emaar MGF and the Delhi Development Authority — to look into labour issues,” says CWG organising committee secretary general Lalit Bhanot.

WHERE IS MY HOME?

School had just begun when it was brought down. “They crushed our classrooms,” says 12-year-old Lakshmi, who saw the bulldozers — put into operation by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) — three years ago. The school, close to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium where many events will be held, has given way to a parking area. Lakshmi’s home, in a nearby slum, has been demolished as well. She now lives in another slum in Jahangirpuri, some 22 kilometres from where she used to reside.

Civil society groups say more than 40,000 families in different slum clusters across the city have been evicted and their homes demolished for new parking lots. And no one has been rehabilitated. “Since these clusters came up after 1997, the families were not covered under the rehabilitation policy of our Slum and Jhuggi Jhopri department,” says MCD spokesperson Deep Mathur, who insists that the total number of affected families is not more than 10,000.

These evictions are illegal, retorts Miloon Kothari, the executive director, Housing and Land Rights Network’s (HLRN), a non governmental organisation. “It’s a violation of UN guidelines on evictions, displacement and rehabilitation,” he says.

Beggars too have been picked up from traffic signals, put into mobile vans and packed off to beggars’ homes run by the Delhi government. According to a HLRN report, more than 50,000 adult beggars and 60,000 child ones would be removed from the streets by September.

But Diskhit says the move is to rehabilitate them. “Child beggars will be put into school and adults will be given an alternative for earning their livelihood.”

SALE SEAL

The city is being beautified, and street vendors are feeling the heat. Only registered vendors can operate in Delhi, but the problem is that out of an estimated 3.5 lakh street vendors, only 20,000 have been registered so far by the MCD, says Mukut Sharma, programme manager, National Association of Street Vendors. “The remaining vendors have been asked by the cops to wind up their business despite the existing National Policy on Street Vendors and Master Plan 2021 that allow us to flourish,” he says.

And while the clients of the vendors — a Rs 3,500-crore industry that sells anything from food to clothes — are equally unhappy to find them gone, Dikshit says the government has other schemes for them. “We plan to appoint them as daily wagers. Some women vendors have already been appointed for the job of carpentry and painting in one of the cultural parks in the city,” she says.

Critics, however, are not convinced. “The Games are nothing but a circus,” says Mani Shankar Aiyar. Architect K.T. Ravindran voices his concern too. “There was enough time for the government to do things more discreetly without causing any inconvenience to anyone,” says Ravindran.

NO RALLYING AROUND

Jantar Mantar, one of the few places in Delhi where democratic protests are legally permitted, has also come under the CWG scanner. Recently, the police and the New Delhi Muncipal Council, which governs the area, dismantled temporary shacks put up by protestors. “We want to show our city clean during the event. Jantar Mantar will be back in action after the Games,” says Dikshit.

There will be a winner in the Games who will tot up the maximum number of gold medals. But Delhi-ites know who the losers are — the citizens themselves.

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