By Krishn Kaushik and Joseph Campbell
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The central business and government district of New Delhi came to a standstill on Friday with markets shuttered, schools closed and traffic restricted as tens of thousands of security personnel fanned out for the weekend summit of G20 countries.
The official closure came into effect at midnight on Thursday with leaders of the group scheduled to begin arriving from Friday morning for the most high-powered global meeting hosted by India.
Those attending include U.S. President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Bin Salman and Japan's Fumio Kishida, among others.
On Friday, the centre of the normally bustling and choked city of 20 million was deserted, with just a trickle of vehicles and scores of armed security personnel seen along the main streets, Reuters witnesses said.
Nearly 130,000 police and paramilitary security personnel have been deployed across the city, mostly in the New Delhi district, with the air force providing cover from aerial threats.
City authorities have also demolished slums near the summit venue, tried to scare away monkeys and removed stray dogs from the area.
Stores and restaurants were closed in the capital's premier Connaught Place colonial-era shopping district, as well as in the popular Khan Market. Shopkeepers have told local newspapers they would lose about 4 billion rupees ($48 million) because of the three-day closure.
"It's quite normal for visiting dignitaries to visit a city landmark like Khan Market," said Sanjeev Mehra, president of the Khan Market Traders Association.
"For G20 delegates, we were preparing mementos, but the government has asked us to shut down our shops. We have decided to concede to the government's request, but for a growing economy, it would have been nice to let business operations run normally."
The leaders and their teams are staying in luxury hotels in and around the heart of the city and the meeting is being held at a newly-built venue across the road from the country's Supreme Court.
Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had appealed to Delhi's residents to bear with the possible inconvenience due to the summit restrictions.
"While the entire country is a host, Delhi will bear maximum responsibility" for the G20 summit, Modi said.
"When so many guests come from around the world, it does lead to some inconvenience ... I seek forgiveness from Delhi citizens for the problem they are going to face."
Authorities have been announcing that much of the city is open with Delhi Police repeatedly messaging on social media platforms that "just a small part of NDMC area will have restrictions”, referring to the New Delhi Municipal Corporation.
Offices and schools here have been asked to close, as also shops and small businesses. Taxis and buses aren’t allowed in this part of the city.
Even app-based taxi and food delivery services are barred. Those who need to reach the railway station or the airport through these areas would need to produce tickets to be allowed to pass through.
In the bazaars of the old city, it was not clear if the restrictions would be extended there. Many shops were closed on Friday.
Yashowarthan Aggarwal, a 37-year-old store owner in Dariba Kalan, a street renowned for its jewellery shops, said authorities should allow the area to remain open.
“The tourists coming to Delhi for G20 should look at our shops, buy something. If they just come and see everything is closed, there’s nothing good about it,” he said.
Newspaper advertisements that the Delhi Police has been publishing every day with traffic advisories and route maps for the general public, say: “India is proud to host the 18th G-20 Summit”.
A Sanskrit saying is added at the bottom: “Atithi Devo Bhava” or the Guest is God.
($1 = 83.1600 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Krishn Kaushik, Joeseph Campbell and Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by YP Rajesh and Raju Gopalakrishnan)