Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Price of Games

"...We can't just hide our poor or wish them away," said Bakshi, founder of Project Why, a charity that provides free primary education for children from New Delhi's many slums.

India is spending more than $400 million (£200m) to polish Delhi's image as a first-rate capital with many urban renewal projects spurred by the forthcoming 2010 Commonwealth Games . India hopes to use the games as a springboard for its planned 2020 Olympic bid.

New Delhi has 150,000 homeless residents - the vast majority of them women and children . In the months leading up to the games, more than 5000 families have been forced from their homes as the city authorities demolished hundreds of slums and encampments around New Delhi .

"Most of these families were moved here from another part of Delhi to make way for 1982 Asian Games," said Kumar, 35, an ironworker and toolmaker. "Now, the city is moving us again to make way for the Commonwealth Games...Whether they make this city into another Singapore or Hong Kong doesn't matter to us," said Kumar as he eyed the tangle of traffic near his stand of handmade tools. "We're happy the games are here, but we're the ones paying the price to have them.""

Delhi's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, has vowed to rid the city of slums . In public statements, she has said that demolishing slums is a humane act, mainly because it forces people to seek alternatives to the crowded squalor of the settlements, which are often illegal and have no running water or electricity.

Some city planners have pitched an idea to relocate thousands of the city's beggars, mostly children and handicapped people, into camps on the city's fringes before and during the Commonwealth Games, a plan that critics say hides, rather than solves, the problem. One plan involves moving about 3000 homeless women and children from the streets of Delhi into an abandoned 14-acre ashram in Rishikesh - about five hours by train north of Delhi

The city's facelift leading up to the games is contributing to its homeless problem as thousands of unskilled labourers and their families migrate to Delhi for construction jobs, most of which pay minimum wage of roughly $4 per day or less. The influx of unskilled workers has led to a sudden mushrooming of tent cities around many of the construction sites.

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