It has been observed that coronavirus is spreading faster in densely populated areas. Even municipal authorities claim that slums are the biggest reason for increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients in Mumbai. That is the reason authorities are taking rigorous actions in Dharavi, known as Asia’s largest slum. However, there are little to no precautions being taken in the slums of Govandi, that are also densely populated.
Shivaji Nagar, Baiganwadi and Rafi Nagar are the slum pockets of Govandi where more than six people reside in one 10×10 ft room. Residents line up every morning to use community toilets.
The doctors and residents of the slum pockets believe that the areas are just like Dharavi and cases can increase faster. Are authorities doing enough to prevent the spread?
The density of the slum and the lifestyle of the people living there make residents more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Sanitisation of houses, places of worship and community toilets is very important on a daily basis in this situation. However, residents revealed that sanitisation work is very rare in the areas.
A social activist and teacher from Shivaji Nagar told that sanitisation work was seen for a few days in the initial stage of the lockdown. “The sanitisation was not done properly. They sanitised only on the roads, no chawls were sanitised properly.” said Ateeq Khan.
Another resident from Shivaji Nagar, Jameel Shaikh concurred. “They did sanitisation for a few days but only on the roads just to show that they are doing something. It was all for social media promotion, not to save us from the coronavirus.”
Community toilets need to be sanitized daily because the residents of the slum pockets use the toilets every day.“The public toilets could be one of the major sources of coronavirus because everybody goes there. However, the BMC is not sanitising the toilets every day. Authorities and politicians should take action and sanitise the entire area along with the public toilets to save us from the virus. Only lockdown is not enough in these areas.” said Akbar Ali, Resident, Baiganwadi.
Alam Shaikh who looks after a community toilet in Rafi Nagar revealed that the community toilet was sanitised twice or thrice when the lockdown was imposed and then no one went there for sanitisation. “Recently sanitation was done for two more days when the new BMC commissioner was on a visit to these slum areas.”
The residents say the government has imposed lockdown but is doing nothing in these areas to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Doctors as well as residents believe that medical screening and increased COVID-testing is needed in these densely populated areas.
A resident of Shivaji Nagar says that coronavirus is so dangerous that many might be infected by it as social distancing is not being practised there. “If BMC tests everyone for COVID-19 I can bet that almost 50 percent of people will turn out to be positive. Because people hardly follow social distancing rules here in these slums. But BMC is not doing even a simple thermal screening.”
A doctor Gauhar Shaikh, who runs a clinic in Shivaji Nagar said that BMC should conduct camps in these areas and run COVID-19 tests regularly. “Regular testing in these slum areas are important. Free testing camps are set up in many areas in Mumbai. But, our area is neglected as if coronavirus is not dangerous for the people here.”
Gauhar further added that BMC should tie-up with local private doctors to set up a testing camp.
“Every chawl in Govandi slums is dangerous,” added Zahid Khan, another doctor from Lotus Colony.
Gauhar also highlighted the stigma associated with COVID-19 and the danger of people not getting tested even if they show symptoms, thereby putting others at risk.
Violation of Social Distancing Norms
Social distancing norms have been flouted in the slum pockets since the beginning of the lockdown. Many say it is impractical in the slum areas. “We have small houses where more than five people stay. It is tough to be confined in one room all the time. It is suffocating for us.” Raju Sharma, Baiganwadi resident.
Akbar further added that people stay indoors till there is police patrolling. “People rush to their houses when the police came. But, once the police disappear people come out and spread on the roads and chawls again.”
Many said that the residents should understand the danger and stay home. “People are not serious. That is why police patrolling should be there round the clock,” said Ariz Rizvi, resident of Rafi Nagar.
Recently CRPF personnel were deployed but not effectively. They are not on round regularly. Hence no change can be seen as far as following social distancing rule is concerned.
What Do the Authorities Say?
The M East ward Assistant Commissioner, Sudhanshu Dwivedi, refused to answer this journalist’s queries. However, an M East ward official on the condition of anonymity said that thermal screening is taking place one time at a place due to lack of staff.
“We are doing the mass thermal screening, target screening and then swab testing as much as possible. We are testing about 150 people every day.”
He further added that M East ward has more areas apart from Shivaji Nagar, Baiganwadi, Rafi Nagar they have to look after.
Another official said that they are not able to deploy police all the time in these areas. “However, we are trying to make sure that shops that are not essential are closed in these slum areas. Moreover, we are also trying to remove gatherings, but residents should also understand the danger and cooperate.”
On the other hand, Abu Asim Azmi, MLA of the area (Mankhurd-Shivaji Nagar), refused to say anything on the issues and suggested to talk to the ward official. “Talk to the ward officer. They are the ones who look into all these matters,” said the MLA.
The article was first published on The Quint