Open Letter to the CM of Maharashtra - Immediate Assistance to COVID-19 affected Slums


Date: 1st April, 2020

Hon'ble Chief Minister and Hon’ble Deputy Chief Minister,
Government of Maharashtra

Subject: Immediate Assistance for COVID19 affected people in Mumbai slum areas

The novel COVID19 i.e. Coronavirus infection has spread at a very fast pace all over the world. Even if the government has taken all appropriate steps from time to time to prevent the spread of this epidemic across Maharashtra, and with the entire country under lockdown, the number of cases does not appear to be in control and is constantly rising.

mumbai covid19

In recent reports it has come out that a few COVID19 cases have been reported from the slum areas of Mumbai, such as parts of Govandi, Mankhurd, Ghatkopar. There have been reports of cases of COVID19 being found in different areas in Kurla Buddha Colony as well. The Kurla Buddha Colony was sealed completely on 28th March after multiple positive cases were reported from there. It has been declared as quarantined for all and has been completely cut off from the rest of the city for now. Also, 2 patients have been found in M-​​ward and Lallubhai compound, in Govandi. There are also some patients in areas like Cheeta Camp and Vishnu Nagar Mandala. These areas are mostly inhabited by workers, most of them migrants. A large number of Indian citizens, mostly coming from marginalised socio-economic backgrounds are living in these slums.

Because of the 21 day lockdown migrant workers have not been able to leave for their native places. If there is a large-scale community transmission of Coronavirus in Mumbai slums, the situation is bound to become lethal for the people living there. It will become very serious and impossible to control. We are fully aware of this.

It is, therefore, a strong request that the Chief Minister of Maharashtra should look into this matter and accept the following conditions.

Steps that must be taken immediately

The Union Government has announced a 21-day lockdown of the entire country. According to experts, just a lockdown is not enough in controlling the epidemic. Lockdowns are necessary for the Governments to get some time for setting up the health-care infrastructure that is needed to counter the epidemic, as we saw in the case of Wuhan province in China where the Government used the lockdown to set-up mega hospitals for everyone within weeks. “Aggressive measures to find, isolate, test, treat and trace is not only the best and fastest way out of extreme social and economic restrictions, but they're also the best way to prevent them,” said the Director General of WHO, repeatedly. We are already on the 5th day of lockdown, and there are only two weeks left. We must use this period to set up the infrastructure required. Otherwise once the lockdown is lifted, the epidemic will spread again because the virus is not going anywhere. Below are some of the steps the MH Government needs to take immediately over this 2-week period, to control this epidemic.  

Immediate Measures:

1. Now that the infection has clearly spread to the Mumbai slums, the State Government must declare that we have reached Phase III of the epidemic - “Community transmission”. This is not to create panic among people, but to ensure that both the Government and the citizens can take the necessary precautions and steps. In fact, on March 21, the MH Health Minister himself had warned about this.

2. On an immediate basis, BEST buses must be converted into mobile medical clinics for testing and other healthcare, and for supplying medicines. For each designated densely populated area - particularly the lower and middle-income areas where people from oppressed caste backgrounds live in greater numbers – a number of mobile clinics must operate on a regular basis. They should visit each individual residential complex and conduct community testing and screenings at war footing. This is the most efficient and cost-effective way to conduct community testing. The Rajasthan Government has been doing community screenings, proving that if the Government wants, it can be done.

3. The Government must immediately designate more number of hospitals to COVID19 testing and treatment. Immediate arrangements must be made for enough Personal Protection Equipments, Hazmat suits for all the doctors, nurses and health workers dealing with the crisis. Government must on a temporary basis acquire private hospitals as necessary, in appropriate locations, and convert them into COVID19 treatment centers. The Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh Governments are taking over private hospitals in their respective states. Clearly, the MH Government can and must also do the same.

4. There have been several reports of entire middle and lower income residential buildings, with most residents belonging to oppressed caste backgrounds, being put under lockdowns - such as in Kurla Buddha Colony, because positive cases have been diagnosed there. Today there has been a reported death of a person in one such building in Buddha Colony, who was sick with pre-existing conditions. His family was not allowed to go out and buy medicines by the police since the building has been kept under lockdown. This is a criminal offence and such policies must be reversed immediately, legal action must be taken against the responsible officers for this death, and proper compensation must be provided to the family.

5. People in the bastis where COVID19 patients are found must be treated respectfully. Most of these areas are home to people from oppressed caste backgrounds. Currently, they are facing continuous humiliation at the hands of police and other Government authorities. Already a battle that is supposed to be fought with doctors, is being fought with the police force. In addition, the police officers are not responding to the people's emergencies in such bastis. Immediate orders must be issued to the police in this regard, and compensation must be provided to the people in case of any loss they incur due to the police or state authorities’ carelessness.

6. Wherever there are reports of people testing positive, in the areas where people from oppressed social and economic backgrounds reside, all families in the locality must be screened and tested, and those who are healthy must be shifted out of there and temporarily rehabilitated in a safe location. Only after that, the empty building should be sealed off to prevent anyone from getting in. The large number of empty apartments across Mumbai must be used for temporary relocation of such families. According to some estimates, Mumbai has more than 2 lakh unsold apartments lying vacant, as of 2019.

7. Local street vendors must be appointed as ration and other essential items suppliers, for designated localities. They must be given monthly salaries, proper health benefits and protective gear for this work.

The Finances

The BBMC budget for 2019-20 has allocated Rs. 1600 crores for the coastal roads project, and around Rs. 277 crores for gardens, swimming pools and theaters-related projects. At the same time, the money allocated for health projects is just Rs. 806 crores. We demand that the BBMC must immediately take the necessary steps to divert the money allocated for the coastal road and for gardens, parks, theaters, etc., to build the necessary health infrastructure required for dealing with the COVID19 epidemic. This alone will increase the health projects’ budget to three times of what it is presently.

The Maharashtra State GDP has been estimated at Rs 30 lakh crore, which comes to a per capita GDP of Rs 2 lakh annually. This means on an average, each Maharashtrian produces Rs. 2 lakh wealth per year. The Health and Family Welfare budget of the MH Government is Rs. 16,000 crores, which is 0.5% of the state’s GDP. In per capita terms, this means only 0.5% of the wealth one person is producing for the State, is being spent by the state on her health. We demand that the Government must immediately increase the health expenditure, and invest the bulk of this wealth produced by Maharashtrians, back into their health requirements. That is what the families individually would have done at this point if they were allowed to keep with them the money that they are producing.

In its 2019-20 state budget, the MH Government allocated more than Rs. 55 thousand crores for the Nagpur-Mumbai Express Highway. We demand that this money be immediately redirected into the health infrastructure required to be set up in the districts that this highway is supposed to cut across – Nagpur, Aurangabad, Wardha, Jalna, Amravati, Ahmednagar, Washim, Nashik, Buldhana, Thane. This would mean on an average around Rs. 5.5 thousand crores for each of these districts to prepare their hospitals, quarantine centers, medical equipment – specifically ventilators, medical staff, ration and essential supplies, etc.

We similarly demand that the Rs. 11,332 crore budget allocated for the Bandra-Versova Sea Link be immediately redirected into building health infrastructure in the Mumbai suburbs – specifically, areas where people from oppressed social and economic backgrounds reside.

Maharashtra is one of the hotspots of the epidemic right now in this country. Even if all other regions get the spread under control, and Maharashtra fails to do so, the virus will travel from here to the rest of the country yet again, triggering a second wave of the epidemic once the lockdown is lifted. It is the patriotic duty of the Maharashtra Government to, therefore, take all possible steps to control the epidemic within the state – ward by ward, municipality by municipality, district by district. There is no shortcut to this, and the only way is to invest all the resources that the state has kept for secondary importance infrastructure projects at this point, into emergency health care – health care that does not just mean hospitals and medical support, but also includes rations, essential supplies and social security, particularly for the most vulnerable and oppressed sections of the society.

Thank you,

Yours Sincerely,

Megha Kshirsagar

Sonali Shirke

Arati Kade


Image courtesy: Wikicommons

[via Megha Kshirsgar]


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