Dharavi: How Covid battle was won

Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, had the potential of being a super spreader. But BMC and health workers did well to control the spread of the virus there

Dharavi: How Covid battle was won
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Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra

Less than six months after coming to power, the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) Government had to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. The financial impact of the pandemic on industry, commerce and trade was devastating.

The BJP in the opposition, with some help from the Raj Bhavan, kept the MVA government on its toes. The responsibility for the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who is believed to have taken his own life, was pinned on the state government. Aaditya Thackeray, the chief minister’s son, was vilified in the media and the threat of the government getting toppled with BJP poaching MLAs from the ruling coalition cast a cloud of uncertainty.

Unsubstantiated allegations of extortion of Rs.100 crore from bars and restaurants, a bomb scare outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani's home, a political crisis leading to resignation of two cabinet ministers –kept the state government busy in fire-fighting. Above all, the government admitted to an empty coffer and shortage of medicines, beds, ventilators and oxygen.

Maharashtra continues to be among the worst-affected states by Covid. It was also the first state to be hit by the second wave and by the Delta-plus variant.

The sharp rise in daily infections pushed civic authorities to adopt the ‘Dharavi Model’, which involved the 4Ts – tracing, tracking, testing and treating – a strategy praised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The challenge in Dharavi: Asia's largest slum Dharavi has a population of 6.5 lakh, as many as 2.27 lakh people crammed into every square kilometer. Social distancing was next to impossible with families of eight to 10 people living 10 x 10 feet cubicles. According to BMC officials, Dharavi has 5,000 GST-registered enterprises, 15,000 single – room factories which generate an annual turnover of $1 billion.


Sukumaran K marvels at health officials controlling the pandemic at Dharavi. Contrary to apprehensions, Dharavi was the first to report zero cases in the state capital. “We would wait to watch the chief minister Uddhav Thackeray briefing people on social media platforms live; it was so reassuring,” he reflected.

Kiran Dighavkar, Assistant Municipal Commissioner with Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) explained that the 4Ts model worked well in Dharavi, where social distancing and home quarantine of patients having high-risk contacts was not possible. Political analyst Prakash Bal Joshi said, “Thackeray, who had no experience of running a government, managed his communication skills well to connect to people. His focus never wavered from the pandemic. In the first wave, poor health infrastructure was seen across the state. But they were perceived to be better than the neighbouring states of Karnataka and Gujarat.”

“It was good to see Health Minister Rajesh Tope walking with frontline workers to take stock of the situation,” he recalled.

Even when shortage of beds, oxygen and medicines were evident during the second wave, coordination with task forces was done directly by health minister Tope or the chief minister.

Subhash Desai, senior Shiv Sena leader and minister for mining and industries said, “The chief minister did not rush to declare a complete lockdown. He interacted directly with people. He candidly expressed his helplessness while migrant workers were leaving the city. He did not shy away from admitting that jumbo Covid centers could not be put up in a day-or two. He admitted to poor supply of oxygen. He did not lie to people, which is why is treated as ‘aapal manus’ in Maharashtra. The support given by the MVA government to migrant workers was appreciated in states like Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan. Travelling arrangements for migrants by bus or train in coordination with local police and BMC staff and arrangements for food for them were in sharp contrast to the conduct of Uttar Pradesh Government, for example.

While discussing the closure of temples and schools, the CM took people of Maharashtra into confidence. He took responsibility and was not patronizing, telling people what to do. That is why he has emerged as a taller leader.

(The writer is a journalist and documentary filmmaker in Mumbai)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

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