Swathed in private safety gear, a masks on the face and temperature gun in hand, Dr Deepali Patil had an unusually hostile reception when she visited a chawl in Dharavi. A pregnant girl displaying flu-like signs refused to be screened. She initially screamed on the physician, asking her to go away, however later relented after some cajoling. Fortunately, she was discovered to be freed from COVID-19 signs. Dr Patil, a non-public medical practitioner, is one in every of 10 groups, every led by a health care provider, a nurse and two officers of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), dispatched by the municipal physique to go door-to-door searching for coronavirus constructive sufferers in Dharavi.
Asia’s largest slum is on the sting as of late and well being staff, particularly, are seen with worry and suspicion. Millions reside right here in eight foot by 10 foot brick shanties which open into sewers and slim lanes. Some 189 individuals have examined constructive right here for COVID-19 up to now 16 days. Twelve individuals have died. If Mumbai, with shut to three,500 circumstances, is the epicentre of COVID-19 in Maharashtra, then Dharavi is on the core of the issue. It has the very best variety of infections within the metropolis’s smallest geographical knot, a 2.1 sq. km. irregular pentagon within the coronary heart of Mumbai.
Cleaning up: Disinfectant-spraying machines at work in Dharavi. Photo by Milind Shette
It is just not clear what number of extra are contaminated as a result of well being staff like Dr Patil, who’re checking residents for signs of fever and cough, discover it troublesome to enter its warrens. What is thought is worrying sufficient, COVID-19-positive sufferers have been present in all 17 of its slum clusters or ‘pockets’. Dharavi is among the many most densely populated locations on earth. So dense that round 800,000 inhabitants, greater than Jalandhar’s inhabitants, are packed into an space the dimensions of Lakshadweep’s Kiltan Island. Mumbai’s inhabitants density is 228 individuals per hectare; in Dharavi, it’s a mind-boggling 3,846. Social distancing is doomed to fail right here just because residents reside in such shut proximity. More worrying is Dharavi’s location, and the potential for COVID-19 circumstances to blow up throughout the town. The slum metropolis is flanked by Mahim on the west, Matunga on the east. Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s non-public residence ‘Matoshree’ in Bandra (East) and the town’s second enterprise district, the Bandra-Kurla Complex, are simply 5 km away.
This can be the explanation why the slum is underneath siege now. Policemen conduct flag marches right here on alternate days, interesting to individuals to not step out. Drones buzz over the shanties searching for violators at the same time as policemen scan footage from CCTV cameras in a newly arrange management room. The BMC has deployed over 200 docs in half a dozen ‘fever clinics’ to scan residents for signs. A personal laboratory has been roped in to swiftly acquire samples if signs are detected. At an April 20 digital panel dialogue, one in every of Mumbai’s most distinguished residents agonised about Dharavi and the town’s failure to construct reasonably priced housing. “For the first time, the close proximity and low-value structures that we have built are the cause of new problems,” Tata Group chairman emeritus Ratan Tata stated. “The past few months have taught us that we’re suffering from close proximity.” He known as for a “re-examination of what we consider to be acceptable standards in terms of quality of life”.
Around 55 per cent of Mumbai’s 12 million inhabitants lives in slums like Dharavi which occupy simply 0.5 per cent of the metropolis’ actual property. The sunless slum’s timeless spirit and the desires of its residents for a greater life have been eulogised in movies such because the 2008 Hollywood hit Slumdog Millionaire and, extra not too long ago, the Zoya Akhtar-directed Gully Boy. Rais Khan, a tailor who lives in a tiny one-room dwelling perched atop one other shanty, epitomises this spirit. His five-member household can solely entry their home utilizing a slim, steep ladder. They share the house with a stitching machine, their supply of livelihood which Khan makes use of to understand the household’s desires for a greater life. His son Kasim needs to be an engineer and daughter Nargis has ambitions of learning drugs. His spouse Farida spends the day cooking and cleansing for the household and taking care of daughter Iram. Khan worries about his survival in the course of the lockdown. His earnings are locked away in giant blue plastic baggage that maintain the garments he tailors for purchasers. They are nonetheless to be delivered.
Dharavi’s chawls have at all times been a breeding floor for illness. Natural epidemics have swept via the slum since way back to 1896 when the plague worn out almost half its residents. The place is a nightmare for healthcare suppliers. Dysentery, cholera and typhoid epidemics are frequent.
Ironically, the COVID-19 outbreak originated right here not within the matchbox shanties however in a multi-storeyed housing complicated in Dr Baliga Nagar, the slum’s poshest pocket. On April 2, a 56-year-old garment dealer had hosted preachers of the Tablighi Jamaat in his flat, died of COVID-19. The Union well being ministry blames a congregation on the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in Delhi in March for 30 per cent of all circumstances in India. It is just not identified if the Jamaat members in Dharavi had been a part of that, however what has emerged is that the preachers had additionally attended a birthday perform within the locality and met a number of individuals within the space earlier than the dealer died. The illness has now spiralled via the slum pockets, Mukund Nagar, Dhanwada Chawl, Social Nagar, Janata Society, Kalyan Wadi, PMGP Colony, Murugan Chawl, Rajiv Gandhi Chawl, Shastri Nagar, Nehru Chawl, Indira Chawl, Gulmohar Chawl. Not one has been spared.
Dharavi’s thriving enterprise hub, its casual economic system and its vibrant companies of leather-based, garment, pottery and plastic recycling that generate an estimated $1 billion (Rs 7,600 crore) value of enterprise every year, are shuttered. The retailers lining the slum’s enterprise district, the 90 Feet Road, are closed. Heaps of plastic pellets sit exterior recycling items. “I am not sure whether business will get on track in the near future,” says a rueful Praful Shinde, an area leather-based items retailer.
Health staff, in the meantime, have their very own horror tales of how residents are defying social distancing. Residents of Mukund Nagar not too long ago ritually bathed a COVID-19 affected person’s physique within the open earlier than his burial. Since then, they affirm, the variety of COVID-19 sufferers has shot up. Enforcing social distancing is proving to be a problem for even the police. “They disappearand reappear a little while later,” says an exasperated police constable, Deepak Ahire, recounting his futile efforts to disperse individuals. Crowds nonetheless throng the grocery shops inside the slum, pushing apart barricades put in by retailer homeowners to keep away from direct contact. Dr Patil says she fears for her security typically. “At some places, the crowds swell to watch us conduct screenings.”
Social employee Raju Korde explains why social distancing is an issue in a slum the place the lanes are so slim in locations that two individuals can’t stroll aspect by aspect. “The houses are like matchboxes with no proper ventilation. They need to step out to breathe fresh air.” Over 90 per cent of the residents use the 225 public toilet complexes and 1,500 bathrooms every day. Fifty individuals on a mean use a bathroom seat every day. “The possibility of infections spreading is very high,” admits native councillor Babbu Sheikh.
The BMC has been disinfecting all 225 public bathrooms in Dharavi every day. A particular remedy and answer machine imported from New Zealand has been deployed for the aim. Five groups of 150 sanitation staff are sweeping the roads, gathering and disposing of rubbish. BMC staff additionally fumigate the world each alternate day.
Local MLA and college training minister Varsha Gaikwad from the Congress says the federal government has centered on sanitisation, containment and isolation in Dharavi. The 50-bed Sai Hospital has been taken over for treating COVID-19-positive circumstances. The company has created a 300-bed isolation facility on the Rajiv Gandhi Sports Complex, a two-storey construction with two large halls positioned at Kala Qila, near the Mithi river that flows close to Dharavi. A municipal faculty within the coronary heart of the slum can be being outfitted with a 700-bed isolation facility. Since the locals are shy of discussing their signs with officers, the BMC has approached 150 native medical practitioners to persuade them to step ahead if they’ve well being issues.
Assistant municipal commissioner of G/ North ward Kiran Dighavkar says the BMC has for now divided Dharavi into 5 zones of 55,000 residents every for a centered strategy. “All of them will be screened for fever and cough in a couple of weeks. We are working in mission mode.” The company’s chief well being official, Dr Daksha Shah, says the drug hydroxychloroquine or HCQ, now being exported by India internationally, is just not but being utilized in Mumbai for remedy.
Who is guilty?
The outbreak has put the highlight on Dharavi’s most outstanding neighbour, Uddhav Thackeray. The chief minister continues to remain at ‘Matoshree’ and makes use of the official residence Varsha on Malabar Hill for his conferences. The BMC is accountable for the well being services in Dharavi and Uddhav’s get together, the Shiv Sena, has managed it since 1997. The Sena gained three of Dharavi’s seven municipal wards within the 2017 company elections.
Dharavi is quickly rising as a take a look at of the chief minister’s management. He has been underneath steady stress from the opposition over his dealing with of the pandemic. Leader of the opposition Devendra Fadnavis emphasises the necessity for aggressive testing all around the metropolis, particularly in Dharavi. “The BMC has suddenly stopped testing asymptomatic patients so that the number of positive patients stays low,” he says. “But this is dangerous. They are playing with people’s lives.” BMC commissioner Praveen Pardeshi says they are going to take a look at the asymptomatic sufferers after a quarantine interval of not less than 5 days.
Say aah: A health care provider takes a swab pattern of a younger resident in Dharavi. Photo: AFP
The Union authorities, although, is just not satisfied the BMC can deal with the disaster. On April 21, it dispatched a workforce of 5 specialists underneath extra secretary Manoj Joshi to evaluate the state of affairs. The workforce is empowered to difficulty orders to the civic physique wherever required. On the primary day of his go to, Joshi prompt that the state authorities deal with door-to-door companies and the high-risk sufferers within the slums. He additionally advisable the shifting of suspected sufferers out of the slums.
But the problem that isn’t going away is the political apathy and vested pursuits which have stalled makes an attempt to switch Dharavi’s shanties with multi-storeyed buildings. Since 1997, the Maharashtra authorities has floated a number of tenders to redevelop the slum however with out success. In the newest try this January, Dubai-based SecLink Technologies Corporation gained a Rs 28,000 crore bid to redevelop the slum. For causes unknown, the contract has nonetheless not been awarded, forcing the corporate to difficulty a risk of looking for Rs 2,299 crore in compensation. Today, the stalled venture is coming again to hang-out metropolis authorities. It’s a stark reminder of how public well being is usually held hostage to political whims.