On May 18, a 25-bed Covid care centrebegan operations in Juhu, Mumbai. According to producer, distributor and philanthropist Anand Pandit, it was a call from his Sarkaar 3 and Chehre actor Amitabh Bachchan that prompted him to approach Ritambhara Vishva Vidyapeeth with a request to convert some of the halls in the educational institution into a Covid facility. “It doesn’t have any ICU beds as the need for them is diminishing as cases decrease, but they are all oxygen beds, fitted with both pipelines and concentrators,” Pandit informs Free Press Journal from New York.
In his blog post, Bachchan had referred to this centre as also a 400-bed facility at the Rakab Ganj Gurudwara in Delhi that he has helped set up. The actor also imported 20 ventilators from abroad, 10 of which have already arrived in Mumbai. The balance are coming in by May 25 and will be distributed to hospitals and care centres in the city that he has identified. He has also ordered for 200 oxygen concentrators and helped set up a diagnostic centre at a Covid facility at the capital’s Bangla Sahib Gurdwara. “He has told me that whenever I do something related to Covid relief, to let him know,” shares Pandit.
Bachchan has donated MRI machines to Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital while PPE kits and other protective gears have been made available to frontline workers. Besides distributing food among the poor, he has also taken over the care of two orphaned children. “The local Govt., has a formal procedure for the adoption process and they have identified the 2 children who have lost their parents to the virus. They will be giving us the names by tomorrow for the Hyderabad orphanage and shall be given free education from the 1st to the 10th class, along with free boarding and lodging. If either of them turn out to excel they shall be considered for higher studies under the same conditions,” he wrote on his blog.
Meanwhile Pandit has also joined hands with his Total Dhamaal actor Ajay Devgn to help set up a 25-bed facility in Dadar, Mumbai. Being a real estate developer, he had been toying with the idea of turning unused schools, colleges and marriage halls into Covid centres as existing hospitals were packed to capacity during both the first and second wave.
“It was Ajay’s idea and I was happy to collaborate with him. With the cooperation of the BMC, we have converted a multipurpose hall in Dadar into a charitable hospital with all ICU beds. It came in handy during the last one month and will continue to provide healthcare to the under-privileged for free. Hinduja is running the centre,” he says, adding that over the next 15-20 days, he will be handing over a 200-bed hospital to BMC in Veera Desai Road, Andheri.
Last May, he set up a 1000-bed quarantine centre in Mumbai’s Chandivali which is still operational. Now, he is looking to set up a Covid care centre in Borivali and scouting for property. “People have been trying to dissuade me, pointing out that with numbers falling there is no need, but I want to do it and I will,” he asserts, adding that arrangements are also being made for pediatric care.
Last year, when the Coronavirus-induced lockdown shut people in their houses without work, Pandit distributed rations to 3000-4000 needy people. “Even now anyone can come to my office and we will help out as best as we can,” he promises, pointing out that over the last year-and-a-half he has also made cash donations to the industry’s daily wage owners through the different film associations. “We also set up centres that along with medical care provided counselling in mental health to construction workers from the North cut off from their families following the lockdown.”
He started out as a “one-man army” but over the months, as the Covid crisis across the world and in India in particular has escalated, the filmmaker admits that at least 10-15 people from the fraternity have reached out to him wanting to know if they could collaborate with him in some way or if they can make contributions.
For now everyone’s priority is vaccination with research proving that jabs can enhance immunity against the virus and reduce fatality. With India facing a vaccine shortage, Pandit says that he would be happy to import vaccines like Pfizer and Sputnik from the US and Russia. “But with the central and state governments looking into that we will wait till India stocks up, then, buy vaccines in bulk to inoculate industry workers and others. The need of the hour is to come together and fight the virus,” he signs off.