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MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - City officials in New Delhi have demolished hundreds of shanties in the past week, leaving up to 1,500 people homeless for winter, in the latest of several such evictions this year across the country as officials race to upgrade cities.
The demolition of the decade-old informal settlements happened with no notice, activists said, with residents unable to retrieve their belongings and not offered alternative accommodation.
A city official said 300-350 shanties were demolished with hundreds placed in temporary accommodation, but a local non-government organisation estimated 1,500 were left homeless.
"It is a matter of great concern when the government destroys homes that people have built ... and renders them homeless without any recourse or access to remedy, especially in the winter," said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of advocacy Housing and Land Rights Network.
Officials said the land belonged to the city and that residents were asked to clear the area several times. After the demolition, they were given food and temporary shelter, one official said.
"They were accommodated in tents, and senior officials visited the site and informed them about alternate accommodation," said Bhaskar Sharma, a spokesman for the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board.
More than a quarter of Delhi's population of about 18 million lives in slums and informal settlements, according to some estimates.
About a third of India's 1.25 billion population lives in cities, with numbers rising every year as tens of thousands of migrants leave villages to seek better prospects in urban areas. Many end up in overcrowded slums lacking basic amenities.
But the government has unveiled a plan to provide housing for all by 2022 that will create 20 million new housing units and rehabilitate existing slums.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to create 100 Smart Cities in India by 2022 that will have internet connectivity, uninterrupted power and water supply, efficient public transport and living standards comparable to Europe.
Activists have voiced concerns that the drive to modernise cities will force tens of thousands of such people from their homes as city planners spruce up central business districts and build metro train lines.
Evictions are increasingly carried out in extreme weather conditions, without notice, and with large numbers of police, Chaudhry said.
Residents, who are largely daily wage earners, lose their belongings and their livelihood, and children are forced to drop out of school, she said.
"How can the government be committed to providing housing for all, if it demolishes existing homes of lower income groups?" Chaudhry said. "The state must stop all evictions across the country."
Reporting by Rina Chandran, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith