/ 4 October 2010

Delhi chief minister defends hiding poverty

New Delhi’s chief minister Sheila Dikshit has dismissed criticism that the city is trying to hide its poverty during the Commonwealth Games by clearing beggars from the streets and erecting barriers to hide its slums.

Dikshit has come under fire from civil rights’ activists over the removal of beggars, street children and the homeless, which are a familiar sight on Delhi’s usually packed streets.

Giant hoardings hailing the arrival of the Games have also been erected along the roads that will be used by athletes and officials, hiding open sewers, stagnant water and rubbish-strewn slums from view.

“When you get a guest at your house and when the eyes of the world are going to be on this city, would you not like it to look like a nice city?” Dikshit told Indian news channel NDTV in an interview on Sunday.

She defended the government’s spending on efforts to clean and tidy up the capital, saying it was “overdue. You go and have a look at it now. Is it something bad to like that, by making it look more pretty?”

She said all beggars have been put in homes and would be cared for even after the end of the October 3 to 14 sporting showpiece, the cost of which was estimated at $6-billion by the government in August.

“Instead of wandering around, we have got homes for them. Every beggar can be put into a home and every child can be put in a home,” she said.

The social services arm of the Delhi government says that 1 300 beggars have been arrested since January.

But according to the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), an organisation that fights for the right to decent accommodation, arrests have been widened to all the city’s poor.

“About 75% of those who’ve left the centre of Delhi are not beggars but the poor and migrants,” said the head of the association, Milun Kothari last week.

“They’re arrested on the pretext of security because they don’t have any proof of identity, but it’s a human rights violation,” he added, estimating that 60 000 beggars and 150 000 homeless usually live in Delhi. – Reuters