An average of 7 lakh people take the local train for Mumbai from its metropolitan region everyday for work. Plus, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) constitutes one-fifth of Maharashtra's population. The government has said that it cannot ignore this reality. It would have to consider Mumbai and MMR as one before it further eases the lockdown. The matter was discussed in an online interaction between state cabinet minister Aaditya Thackeray and Observer Research Foundation, which launched a detailed report titled 'Turning the tide: Is Mumbai ready for the next wave?'.
The report released by ORF on July 31 talks about the aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic in its first and second waves and preparing for the third wave. The report stated that, given the deep economic integration of Mumbai in the MMR, any fattening of the curve in the city can only be in conjunction with similar efforts in the MMR.
"About 7 lakh people from the MMR enter Mumbai daily for work. Most of this ‘to and fro’ travel takes place via local trains, which could become a ‘super spreader’ of the virus. The MMR saw high infection rates during the previous waves and contributed about 35 per cent to Maharashtra’s caseload and deaths", the report mentioned.
At present, the Maharashtra government has been careful in opening up public transportation, especially local trains. Senior railway officials said that the possibility of a spike seen during the second wave could have occurred early this year after the restrictions on commuting by train were eased. What they understand in the discussions with the state government is that, there should not be a repeat of the same. It could trigger the third wave.
During the online interaction with ORF, Minister of Tourism, Environment and Protocol, Aaditya Thackeray said that the MMR is like a gateway to other parts of the state. There needs to be a Covid-19 recovery master plan for MMR, which will be very crucial.
The ORF suggested that BMC can adopt a ‘Mumbai+’ approach for vaccinations and reopen the city. A special MMR task force of health experts, administrators, transport specialists and spatial planners should be able to drive this plan to ensure a uniform vaccination and unlock schedule.
There is also a city 'migrant policy’, which could create a database of migrants, their state, city and village of origin and job description. "The civic body could set up migrant resource centers to register them. It would link and track the health, housing and livelihood needs of the migrant’s family,” stated the report.
Experts said that there can be pockets across the MMR, where a separate housing facility can be constructed for migrants. Accordingly, holistic plans can also be drawn. In June 2020, local trains were resumed for essential service providers. By May, other categories of commuters, including women, were allowed during restricted hours. In February 2021, after a gap of nearly 320 days, the local trains were unlocked for the general public for limited hours. Additionally, 204 special suburban services were added on April 9.