Following spike in cases over the past few weeks, Mumbai Police on Wednesday imposed Section 144 in the city. The order prohibits presence or movement of one or more persons in public places. It also prohibits any sort of gathering anywhere. The order will remain in force till July 15.
While the nationwide Covid-19 cases crossed 6 lakh, the country’s worst-affected state Maharashtra recorded 5537 new cases, taking the total cases to 1.8 lakh. With 198 deaths on the state’s 100th day of lockdown, the toll reached 8,000. No wonder the administration imposed Section 144.
Maharashtra, and especially the city of Mumbai, has always been the worst-hit spot in India’s pandemic crisis scene. While continued rise in cases in two satellite cities of Thane and Mira-Bhayander are keeping the authorities on their toes, Dharavi, the biggest slum of Asia, has been a major headache for health experts.
So why is Mumbai reeling under surge of Covid-19 cases? Why the imposition of Section 144 became an imperative at this point? And why Mumbai still continues to contribute a big share of the nation’s total daily new cases?
Here are five reasons responsible for this
1. Dense population makes social distancing a myth
Mumbai is the world’s most densely populated city. Around 77,000 people live in each square mile of this most crowded urban area on earth. Here, the concept of social distancing is nothing but a myth. We all know that until a vaccine becomes available in market, social distancing is the only way to get rid of coronavirus. But in Mumbai maintaining social distancing is next to impossible.
Various slums constitute around 42% of Mumbai’s total area. Undoubtedly, Dharavi is the biggest one with an estimated area of 2.1 square kilometres. There are big slums in Borivli, Malad and Dahisar among other such places across the city. The total population of Mumbai’s slums is nearly 80 lakh. With five to six people staying in one of those tiny slum rooms, it is an ideal base for the virus to spread and flourish.
2. Poor hygiene, water and toilet facilities
Mumbai is one of those cities in India that suffers from very poor hygiene and sanitation facilities. Owing to its dense population, major parts of the city remains dirty. Trash and animal feces splattered everywhere on the roads and sidewalks, funky smells emanating from crowded markets and slums and limited number of toilet facilities are part of the city’s basic features. Around 40% of the city’s slum dwellers depends on tubewells to meet their daily requirement of water. So far the city was running as usual with all these drawbacks until the coronavirus outbreak occurred to teach it a tough lesson.
No wonder that half of Mumbai’s Covid-19 cases comes from the wards that have shared toilets, thousands of rooms with no ventilators or windows and narrow alleys. When it comes to slums, there are just shared toilets with no other option available. Though urban planning experts have been rooting for uplifting the city’s overall health and hygiene scenario, somehow a clean and hygienic Mumbai never sees the light of the day. The experts also suggested that every household in the slum areas must build their personal toilet with the help of the city’s civic body. But none of these plans were implemented.
3. Lack of coordination between state and civic body
This is another big issue that is giving leeway to the unhindered spread to Mumbai’s Covid-19 situation. Though Shiv Sena holds the ruling position in both the state and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, still there is lack of coordination and conflict between the two. Many of the decisions taken by the state government are not supported by the BMC and vice-versa. For example, along with essential shops, the state wanted to open other non-essential joints, including liquor stores, in the red zone areas of Mumbai, but the civic body authorities advised not to open anything except the essential commodity stores.
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One can expect that the situation will worsen if these conflicts between the two sides are not sorted before monsoon which poses the threat of new diseases like dengue, malaria among others along with the existing pathogen attack.
4. Mumbai never had enough testing compared to rising cases
Since the beginning of the pandemic’s outbreak, Mumbai never tested enough. The testing wasn’t ever on a par with the number of rising cases. Mumbai used to share two-third’s of Maharashtra’s entire caseload, but since last month Mumbai’s number of daily new infections has started decreasing. According to a report, many had mistakenly thought it to be the city doing well against Covid-19, but the reality was Mumbai’s daily testing capacity never paced up compared to spike in infections.
Till May 1, the city was conducting 4,000 tests every day. Then the government extended testing facilities in Nashik, Latur, Solapur and Jalgaon among other districts, but despite that by May 23, Mumbai’s daily testing number still stuck at 4,000. One wonders why! If we look at a comparatively old report by The Quint, it says between April 15 to April 29, cases in Mumbai increased 200% but testing rose by 100%.
5. Mumbai civic body one of the richest in Asia
Now, one might wonder why Mumbai never enjoys basic health, hygiene and sanitation facilities, why aren’t the slums demolished and turned into proper housing quarters to enhance the living condition of the poor. Among several such questions, the issue of sufficient funds is the only constant. Does that mean BMC doesn’t have enough funds to work on these sectors? Well, surprisingly, the answer is no. Rather, Mumbai’s civic body is the richest such institution in Asia. It has an annual budget of Rs 30,000 crore. The BMC also has deposits worth a whopping Rs 50,000 crore! Despite these figures, Mumbai lives in the dark, muck, potholes and trashes. Did anyone say corruption?