COVID-19 in Dharavi is Mumbai's worst nightmare

COVID-19 in Dharavi is Mumbai's worst nightmare

DH Photo

With COVID-19 positive cases emerging in Mumbai's Dharavi area, the biggest slum-cluster of Asia, the worst nightmare of the Maharashtra government has come true.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has sealed two buildings and have put several people in quarantine.

Tension also prevailed in the locality as a group of youth threw stones on policemen during security and concealment operations.

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"It is a matter of concern that COVID-19 has reached Dharavi," Public Health Minister Rajesh Tope said.

Though a small place, Dharavi is somewhat known across India thanks to films like Om Puri-starrer Dharavi, Deewar with magnificent roles of Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan-Danny Denzongpa's hit Agneepath, Kamal Hasan-starrer Nayakan, Rajinikanth’s socio-political action drama Kaala, Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay or Danny Boyle’s Oscar award-winning  Slumdog Millionaire.

An aerial view will show it as a mosaic of match-box type dwellings in a highly-congested area. A look from the ground would show that some of the dwellings are three to four storeys high.

Spread across 2.1 sq km and having a population of over seven lakh, Dharavi is expected to see a major makeover.  However, it is not an easy task as in terms of population density, it’s among the highest in the world.  

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It is home to over 60,000 to 70,000 families – and in terms of demography, it would not be wrong to describe it as a mini-India.

Spread over 200 hectares (500 acres) – it boasts of a literacy rate of 69 per cent – the highest among the slum localities in the country. 

Spread across the Sion-Matunga stations of the Central Railway and Bandra-Mahim on the Western Railway, the Dharavi locality, this also a business hub – and the turnover is difficult to estimate as it is in the informal sector.

The Mithi river empties into the Arabian Sea through the Mahim creek.

About 45 per cent of the population is Muslim and rest include Hindus, Christians and Neo-Buddhists. Majority of the migrants residing there are from Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

"Its mini-India, you will find people from all parts of India here," says Ramakant Gupta,  President of Yuva Jan Manch, who is now helping people during the crisis.  "The flats here are 8 ft x 10 ft,  10 ft x 12 ft,  12 ft x 18 ft....majority people use common sanitation facilities," he said.

"Several people who wanted to go back could not as trains were shut down because of lockdown," said J Tambe of Roti Bank,  who is providing food packets to the migrants and daily wage earners. "The hotels are closed,  the tiffin services are shut," locals said.

It has several business units right from textiles to pottery to fabrication to the leather industry. Plastic recycling and garbage segregation too is done here. It has an estimated 5,000 businesses and 15,000 single-room factories. Goods produced go to the Middle East, America and Europe.