India’s big challenge - GulfToday

India’s big challenge


Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

The city of Mumbai now represents a very grave challenge in India’s fight against COVID-19. India’s financial capital has 25,500 cases, with 882 deaths, as of Saturday. The state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, has been recording around 2,000 new cases per day. Maharashtra state now accounts for 35 per cent and Mumbai accounts for 21.5 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in India. So, the situation is very crucial, particularly in Mumbai city.

The high density of population and the widespread prevalence of slums and shanty areas in Mumbai, are not conducive to social distancing. Mumbai has about two to three million migrant workers, who work as drivers, hawkers, small shopkeepers, etc. They are desperate to go home and are unable to maintain social distancing norms.  The authorities should facilitate their return to their villages.

The next step would be to decongest the slums and provide toilets and open spaces for the residents. Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum has about a million people, packed in an area of about 2.4 square kilometres. There are five to seven people per room of about 100 to 150 square feet. A study by UNDP indicates that there are about 1,400 people per toilet in the slum. How can the dwellers practice social distancing or stay indoors the entire day? The Dharavi shanties can be replaced with vertical low cost housing apartments, with ample green spaces. The plan to redevelop Dharavi has been under consideration from 2004 onwards, but has not been finalised. It is time to do so.

After almost eight weeks of lockdown, the citizens of Mumbai are itching desperately to go out of their homes to shop, work and attend to their medical problems. However, they need to beware of the serious COVID-19 danger lurking in the city. When the lockout is eased, there will be overcrowding in the markets, at trains, metros, etc. The disease could then spread rapidly. This could open a new Pandora’s box or a can of worms.  

National and state governments across the world may believe, we have done what we could to fight COVID-19. Most governments have locked down their nations for six to eight weeks and widely publicised preventive measures like masks, etc. If governments extend the lockouts, the economic hits could be devastating in terms of livelihoods. So, now governments are telling the people, “You know the dangers and the precautions. Please follow the guidelines to keep safe. It’s over to you.”

Rajendra Aneja — Mumbai, India

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