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Despite sealing parts, the city’s health officials detected a case at Dr Baliga Nagar, part of the larger Dharavi slum, on Saturday (Photo: PTI)
Despite sealing parts, the city’s health officials detected a case at Dr Baliga Nagar, part of the larger Dharavi slum, on Saturday (Photo: PTI)

Coronavirus: Dharavi sets off alarm bells for Mumbai municipal corporation

  • For the city’s authorities, a potential spread in Dharavi—home to 850,000 people living cheek by jowl—is a ticking time bomb
  • Dharavi reported its first case on 1 April when a 56-year-old garment shop owner died

Mumbai: Mumbai’s Dharavi reported one more positive case of covid-19 on Sunday, taking the total in Asia’s largest slum to five. For the city’s authorities, a potential spread in Dharavi—home to 850,000 people living cheek by jowl—is a ticking time bomb.

For the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the country’s richest corporation in charge of the financial capital’s governance, containing the spread of the virus so far has proven to be a challenge.

The first covid-19 case in one of Mumbai’s numerous illegal slum settlements was detected in Worli Koliwada (WK) in the last week of March. Despite putting in place measures restricting the movement of Worli Koliwada’s roughly 35,000 residents, the GS administrative ward for the area reported 58 positive cases as of Saturday and two deaths, according to data from the city authorities.

Neighbouring D ward, home to the popular Mahalaxmi temple and several other slum settlements, has the second-highest number of cases in the city, at 31. The BMC wants to prevent a repeat of such occurrence in Dharavi and Mankhurd-Govandi, two of the city’s most densely populated slums.

“We have extracted the people who were in close contact with the covid-19 infected patients and have put them in isolation and quarantine wards, with the police and our staff monitoring them daily," Mumbai municipal commissioner Praveen Pardeshi told Mint.

But the containment is patchy at best. Mint visited parts of Dharavi on Sunday, including Mukund Nagar and Vaibhav Apartments, both of which have reported one positive case each. Vaibhav Apartments is a plush 14-storey building where entry is manned by several police officers, while a police van idled down the street. Shiv Sena volunteers were spotted near the market area, ensuring that crowds didn’t gather.

But at Mukund Nagar, it was an altogether different story. Mukund Nagar is a congested slum with porous borders. The lanes are narrow, 3-4 feet at their widest, lined with cramped two-storey structures that let little sunlight through. These structures, called “rooms" locally, house entire families. On Sunday afternoon, there were two constables manning all of Mukund Nagar as residents milled about, shops stayed open and vendors with their handcarts wound down alleyways.

Dharavi reported its first case on 1 April when a 56-year-old garment shop owner died. His wife, four daughters and two sons have since tested negative, but a day later, a 52-year-old sanitation worker and a 35-year-old doctor tested positive. The BMC has created containment zones where these cases were found, but in GN ward, where Dharavi is situated, restricting public movement is hard to execute.

Despite sealing parts, the city’s health officials detected a case at Dr Baliga Nagar, part of the larger Dharavi slum, on Saturday. The BMC is now contact tracing the female patient’s movements over the last week. Meanwhile, in order to encourage residents to not step out of their homes, a team from the BMC is providing residents of Dr Baliga Nagar with groceries and essential services.

Though the residents of Dharavi said they want to cooperate with the authorities, it is turning out to be tough for them, too. “We are a family of eight living in a 220-sq ft area. It gets extremely suffocating for us to stay put here during the lockdown. Thankfully, the police has allowed us to go out to buy milk and groceries. That is an escape," said Taufeeq Siddiqui, a tourist guide staying in Dharavi.

On Saturday, authorities shifted nearly 135 people from Worli Koliwada, the first slum to report a covid-19 case, and quarantined them at M.A. Podar Hospital after nearly 10 cases were discovered. The patients have been admitted to Kasturba Hospital and Seven Hills Hospital. Containing a similar spread in Dharavi is a race against time for the BMC.

Omkar Khandekar and Ridhima Saxena contributed to this story.

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