Coronavirus in Mumbai: As rising cases grip the city, Dharavi traders feel the pinch

Trying to unravel the loss-stricken businesses in Dharavi and readapt to the new normal after the previous lockdown, the traders and manufacturers are feeling the pinch with new restrictions owing to a rapidly rising number of cases. Dharavi, believed to be Asia’s largest slum, had been hailed as a success story in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. But the traders are now forced to fight the new surge of Covid-19 cases, badly hitting the informal businesses and small scale manufacturers.

On Thursday, Dharavi alone registered 71 cases. The total case load of Dharavi as of April 1 stands at 4985. For the past two months, Dharavi has been registering cases in two digits daily.

Textiles, leather and pottery are some key businesses that operate in Dharavi. Dharavi’s leather market is one of the biggest contributors to the slum colony’s famed informal economy that supports thousands of families. The total estimated size of Dharavi’s economy – which, apart from leather, includes pottery, textile, and waste recycling – is close to Rs 6,000 crore a year. But the shortage of workers and lack of demand has business owners from Dharavi worried. Many are fearing that this year they would not even earn half of their average annual turnover during the pre-covid19 period.

"While we are just trying to recover after suffering a huge blow post lockdown, the surge in cases has led to the new set of restrictions that were relaxed after a decline in covid-19 number. This time it is going to be a long-term hit on our income, many of us will not be able to sustain the loss this time and will face permanent closure," said S Alim proprietor of Dayatar/ Image shoes and handbags on Dharavi 90 feet road. According to Alim and others in Dharavi, the leather market has still not recovered from the losses it incurred.

Dharavi, the 240-hectare urban sprawl in the heart of the financial capital is home to 20,000-odd small business and small-scale manufacturers which stand paralysed since April last year. Even after the mission begin again most of the businesses are still facing the brunt largely due to the economic slowdown following the lockdown.

“Many factories have exhausted their capital and there is still no idea when things will start improving. The small factories of Dharavi do not have the capacity to suffer this scale of loss. It wasn't easy for us to recover from the months of lockdown last year, now there should not be a lockdown, we will not survive the blow, this time,” said Babu Khan, president of the Dharavi Garment Association.

Since things are not going to be the same as earlier, with physical distancing, night curfew and other restrictions owing to the high number of cases being detected in Dharavi almost daily businesses see no respite. Some business owners and manufacturers have said that lack of demand and labourers migrating to their hometowns once again has further affected their work, making their loss a prolonged one for them than many others.

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