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Slums of Mumbai – Will they be declared as Covid-19 Free Zone?

Basic sanitation & cleanliness is a significant issue plaguing Mumbai's slums, and announces that slums in Mumbai are Covid-19 free will prove as an open invitation to another pandemic.

Mr Dayanand Jadhav, Executive President, Triratna Prerana Mandal in conversation with Prittle Prattle News.

Slums of Mumbai are plagued with a significant issue of Basic sanitation & cleanliness and announcing that slums in Mumbai are Covid-19 free will prove as an open invitation to another pandemic. We must consider the sheer number of people crowding to use public toilets there, lack of social distancing, lack of cleanliness, the density of these slums, and closely stacked families living there, who lack basic sanitation and water supply.     

To understand this better, one must study how water supply is managed or made available to Mumbai slums’ toilets. The primary sources of water for these toilets are – supply from Mumbai Municipal Corporation, a Borewell/Open Well, and commissioning private water tankers, which are also the most expensive. One cannot ignore the availability and supply of water as the level of cleanliness in most toilets in slums depends on it. The availability directly influences the significance and frequency of these toilets (or the hands of the users). Ever since the municipal corporation, through its circulars, has directed all the pay-per-use public toilets to extend free services at the public restrooms, the frequency of cleaning toilets has significantly reduced. On the one hand, they require to provide free services, and on the other hand, the hefty bills of water & power supplied are burning holes in their pockets. 

On top of this, several cleanliness workers fled to their native villages due to the COVID-19 scare. Now the question arises of how to pay their replacement staff, recruited at a higher cost? Amongst these, the highest number of public toilets work on a monthly subscription model and are situated right in the middle of these slums. The community-based organizations managing these public toilets find themselves in a catch twenty-two situation, where there is no revenue generation model left, neither is any support insight from the municipal corporation. How can we expect them to maintain the sanitation expected to fight COVID-19? How can the slums be genuinely free of COVID-19?    

Based on a realistic evaluation of the basic social necessities or the sanitary requirements of the slums, accordingly, supply and provide resources – mostly water and supplies required for cleaning the toilets and the lanes. If such a customized supply chain has launched a set period, then step-by-step, we can move towards declaring the Mumbai slums as a COVID-19 free zone.        

We may have heard – “Toilets are responsible for spreading coronavirus” it was a typical headline circulated through various media around April – May 2020. The spread of Corona in the slums of Dharavi had been extensively discussed in the global media.The state government was putting in all their efforts to control the spread of Coronavirus. Many other NGOs, activists, private establishments, and religious trusts stepped forward and started working on their own. But a detailed evaluation of basic social requirements had not been conducted. After the lockdown was declared, and an emergency curfew-like situation developed in the state, daily headlines of criticisms, rebuttals, and deaths followed. To resolve and make efforts and guide the citizens to end the virus, they were replaced by fear. The usually busy, crowded, and lively streets of the slums went silent as a cemetery when the “COVID-19 affected area” banners started coming up. People began to avoid going out in the neighborhood and even going to public toilets. 

As the corona death rates went high, the panic amongst the residents started, which led to shifting to their native places. This surely did not stop the virus from spreading but was also one medium to see a rise in deaths. The social activists, who teamed up forgetting their differences, came forward and are putting in great efforts to train and educate this underprivileged. It is only because of them that we can see that the pandemic’s impact is reducing gradually. Still, the question remains should the slums of Mumbai be declared as Covid-19 Free Zones? Considering all probabilities, one might say not now, but as time progresses, then it can indeed be so. The headlines promoted earlier about Corona spreading through public toilets might have proven genuine considering the pandemic’s current severity. Considering all the above deliberations about sanitation and hygiene’s relevant condition, our rush to declare the Mumbai slums as Covid-19 free zones might result in a more severe second wave soon.

Mr Dayanand Jadhav, Executive President, Triratna Prerana Mandal in conversation with Prittle Prattle News.

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