Monday, September 20, 2010

Delhi Slum Razed to Avoid Offending Luxury Hotel Guests

A squatter settlement housing more than 2000 people adjacent to a new five-star hotel in Delhi has been demolished two weeks before the city hosts the Commonwealth Games.

Residents of the Netaji Nagar slum were furious at being thrown out of their homes before the Games, which organisers hope will showcase the Indian capital.

''You will play games while we will die,'' Mohammad Sajjad, a vegetable vendor who lived in the slum told The Age as he sifted through the ruins of his home.

The squatter settlement was metres from an ultra-luxury 260-room hotel, the Leela Palace Kempinski, which is expected to open on October 1, two days before the Games begin. The hotel is believed to be one of the most expensive ever built in India, with a price tag of about $A400 million.

The slum, which has been there for 30 years, was near several Games venues including the tennis arena and the main Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium that will host the opening ceremony on October 3. It was also on a major road with a designated transport lane, meaning athletes, officials and dignitaries would have driven past it while travelling to and from some events.

Authorities had given notice that Netaji Nagar slum was due for demolition but residents claimed they were not given enough time to vacate before their houses were flattened by earthmovers on Friday evening.

''This has been my home for 25 years but now I've lost everything,'' a furious labourer, Basant Paswan, told The Age.

Hundreds of police were on hand to ensure the security of the demolition workers and officers from the local municipal authority. A mosque and several Hindu shrines were the only things left standing.

Displaced slum families crowded onto a roadside pavement with their possessions while heavy equipment reduced the densely populated settlement to rubble.

One of those who lost his home, 50-year-old Vijay Pal, sat on a steel trunk, surrounded by the household items he and his wife, Savitri, had been able to retrieve. ''We don't have any place to go,'' he said holding back tears. ''Where will my family live from now?''

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