Over 20 agencies of the central and Delhi governments are working to revamp roads, grow flowers, plan events, and remove ‘eyesores’ ahead of G20 foreign ministers’ meet on 1 March.
India is wearing its G20 leadership like a crown, and it is sparing no expense, effort, or JCB to make national capital Delhi shine like a jewel before the upcoming summit of the world’s most important economies.
From road upgrades to beautification projects to demolition drives, more than 20 agencies of the central and Delhi governments are working full throttle to revamp the city.
The mission is to complete the overhaul before the G20 summit in September. Before this, too, seven important meetings are to be held in Delhi, including the G20 foreign ministers’ conference on 1 March. The overall bill for the city’s upgrade is expected to run up to about Rs 1,000 crore, ThePrint has learnt.
Central Public Works Department (CPWD) engineer-in-chief Anant Kumar said that the infra overhaul had started in many parts of the city, including mending roads and installing new signage.
“Old signage will be removed and new signage will be installed. The routes on which the delegates of G20 countries will visit are also being improved,” he said.
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), the state tourism department, and the India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) are among the other agencies that are spearheading a bulk of the preparations.
Construction work at Pragati Maidan, where the main G20 summit will held in September this year | Credit: Krishan Murari | The Print
The short time-frame is never far from mind. Earlier this month, Delhi Lieutenant Governor V.K Saxena held a high-level meeting
to review progress on the G20 makeover. He also visited
various sites in the city and instructed officials to speed up their work.
However, flare-ups between Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central dispensation have been causing some blips.
The G20 delegates who are arriving next month are expected to visit the archaeological park in Mehrauli, where an ‘anti-encroachment’ drive left several people homeless
and led to a political blame-game this week, with the AAP holding the LG accountable.
The Delhi government has also claimed that it needs more funds from the Union government to do its part. In a 4 February letter to Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia asked
the central government to grant Rs 927 crore for G20 preparations.
Accounting for a large part of this, a Delhi government official said that the capital’s PWD needs about Rs 448 crore, the MCD Rs 249 crore, and the tourism department Rs 72 crore to complete the work on time.
“The work of developing infrastructure is being done on the lines of UK, Singapore, Indonesia, and Germany as these countries have hosted the G20 summit earlier,” the official said.
A spruced-up park in central Delhi, which comes under the NDMC | Credit: Krishan Murari | ThePrint
A BJP spokesperson, however, had called the demand for the grant “shocking”,
since the Delhi government had claimed to have a surplus budget.
Kumar of the CPWD, a central agency, also claimed there was “no dearth of funds”.
“Our work has started and is going on in many parts of the capital,” he said.
When ThePrint visited various parts of the city this week, signs of G20 preparations were evident — from blooming imported tulips in central Delhi’s NDMC areas to the rubble where a night shelter for the homeless once stood in Sarai Kale Khan. Work is also on to fix potholes, redevelop markets, and to ramp up Delhi’s ‘cultural’ offerings.
However, architect and urbanist Madhav Raman cautioned that while events like the G20 were an opportunity to expedite infra work and “shine the government’s self-image”, meaningful development also required “long-term vision”.
Smooth rides for G20 delegates
Different departments of the central and Delhi governments are busy ensuring that the G20 delegates do not have to suffer bumpy rides and unsightly views during their visit to the city in March.
“Our main emphasis is on the redevelopment of roads, potholes, manholes, parks, the lighting of important buildings, and beautification of markets,” an MCD official said on condition of anonymity, adding that the entire endeavour would cost about Rs 250 crore.
The official said the chaotic Sarojini Nagar market and South Extension shopping area were slated to get an upgrade and that “257 roads and streets” had been identified so far for repair in 12 MCD areas.
Repairing potholes by March, though, seems tough. According to a report
this week, there are 6,224 potholes on the roads of Delhi, of which 2,146 fall within the PWD’s jurisdiction and 4,078 within the MCD’s.
Sarai Kale Khan flyover in Delhi, located about 3km from Pragati Maidan | Credit: Krishan Murari | ThePrint
Apart from this, the Delhi government has approved road improvement projects worth Rs 17.5 crore before the G20 meeting. Under this, Mathura Road, Bhairon Road, and Ring Road will be rejuvenated. All three roads lead to Pragati Maidan, the venue of the main G20 summit.
The NDMC is also pitching in to improve roads and the scenery alongside them. Delhi Cantt MLA Virendra Singh Kadian, who is also a member of the NDMC, told ThePrint that the region around the airport was a major focus area.
“The roads around the airport are being repaired and the lighting system in the area is being improved. Encroachments are being removed from all around,” he said.
Kadian added that roadside grilling work was being done from Dhaula Kuan to the airport, and that plants and sculptures were being placed along the route.
While presenting the NDMC’s budget last December, the civic body’s chairman Amit Yadav had said
“Rs 60-100 crore” had been assigned for the G20. These funds, he said, would be used for various initiatives, including improving roads, beautifying flyovers, horticulture, and events.
Flowers, festivals, events
Efforts are on in full swing to showcase Delhi as a “city of flowers
” and cultural nerve centre.
In January, the NDMC had planted more than one lakh tulip bulbs imported from the Netherlands along the diplomatic enclave of Shanti Path and its surrounds— about double
the number that were planted the previous season.
There’s an ongoing Tulip Festival, ending February 28, for Delhiites, and it is hoped that the G20 delegates will get a good eyeful of the blooms when they arrive for the March meet.
Yellow tulips in the heart of Delhi | Twitter/@LtGovDelhi
A gardener who is involved in the city’s floral enhancement, however, was a little concerned that the tulips might not survive very long “since Delhi’s climate is not suitable”.
The MCD is also doing its bit to add colour to the city.
“The MCD has made a park on the barren land near Lajpat Nagar metro station, in which different types of flowers and plants have been planted. There is an arrangement of benches for people to sit. We also plan to install artifacts at some important places,” said the MCD official quoted earlier.
Meanwhile, Delhi’s tourism department has also lined up various plans that will cost about Rs 72 crore to implement.
“We are renovating the Dilli Haat at INA and the Garden of Five Senses in Saket. Delegates will also come to these places. Along with this, a heritage walk will also be arranged for the delegates,” said an official from the tourism department.
Pre-G20 artwork on a Delhi wall, courtesy of the NDMC | Twitter/@tweetndmc
He added that the department was organising 22 festivals at different locations in the city from March through September. The NDMC, too, hosted
a G20-themed food festival last weekend.
An official of the India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO), which is working to ready Pragati Maidan as the venue for the main summit in in September, said that the work is nearly complete.
“The convention centre is the main place where G20 meetings will be held. The area around it is being improved so that the delegates do not face any inconvenience,” he said.
Grief amidst the glitz
Removing ‘eyesores’ and ‘encroachments’ has been a major aspect of Delhi’s G20 preparations, but this has also ended up displacing many people from their homes and places of work with little or no warning.
On 7 February, the MCD embarked on an anti-encroachment drive, claiming in a statement that this was part of “necessary measures to give the best facelift to Delhi in view of the upcoming G20 summit”.
The Delhi Development Authority, an agency of the central government, is also removing illegal constructions on its land.
As part of this drive, houses were controversially
razed in Mehrauli’s Kala Mahal area Monday. After this, a night shelter built on DDA land near Sarai Kale Khan bus terminal was demolished with bulldozers Thursday.
The remains of the shelter demolished by the DDA near the main road of Sarai Kale Khan | Credit: Krishan Murari | The Print
A few steps away from the night shelter, a park is being constructed on the banks of the Yamuna where the G20 delegates will be brought for a walk.
“A park is being constructed here on the banks of the Yamuna. A pond is also being made in which there will be lotus flowers. Delegates will come to see it,” said a DDA official.
Lakshmi (he did not give a last name), an assistant engineer at the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSUB), said that the body had received an order to demolish the shelter “in view of the G20” and the “beautification work” being done in the area.
The shelter’s demolition left about 50 people without a roof, although the administration has now made arrangements for their stay at another nearby shelter.
When ThePrint visited the site Thursday, several residents of the shelter, some of them migrant labourers, were visibly upset. One of them was Anil Kumar, who comes from Uttar Pradesh.
“Sarkar gandgi aur gareeb ko ek jaisa samajhti hai, isliye hame hata diya gaya
(The government thinks that dirt and the destitute are the same, and so they removed us),” Kumar said
Lessons from the past
Overall, 200 G20 meetings are to be held across India, with some having already taken place, including in Mumbai, which saw its own beautification drive. There was some criticism
that the ‘improvements’ there were hastily executed and purely cosmetic.
Urban planner Madhav Raman noted that Delhi, too, ran the risk of not using the G20 opportunity to make improvements that could benefit residents for the long term.
“Although hosting an event like the G20 is definitely an opportunity to implement many projects for the city, it is important to see at which places the work is being done,” he said.
“The Commonwealth Games and Asian Games are examples of how only some parts of the city were developed. Now too, the areas around the places where the delegates will go will be improved. This time also the emphasis will be on New Delhi and South Delhi as it has been happening before. These are the imageable parts of the city,” he added.
The Asian Games of 1982 saw Delhi getting new roads and the addition of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium as a major landmark, among other facilities. Similar improvements had taken place for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. But then, too, demolition drives had negatively impacted
Raman pointed out that all such major events came hand in hand with anti-encroachment drives and attempts to “hide the jhuggi-jhopris
(hutments), which also takes a huge amount of money”.
According to Raman, the government should take a cue from how some other countries used events for widespread rather than siloised development.
“The Olympics held in Barcelona (1992) are one of the best examples of how an entire city can be revamped by taking advantage of an event,” he said.