Slum clusters of Govandi and Mankhurd are BMC’s major concern, as social distancing norms constantly flouted

The situation at slum dominated M (East) ward has turned grim after COVID-19 cases have shown a steep rise and social distancing is being violated openly by a majority. The lockdown violations have become a regular affair, so much as that the civic authorities and police are having a hard time implementing the same.

The ward which is also known as Tuberculosis hotspot of Mumbai, civic authorities have expressed fear that the exposure to SARS-CoV-2 will have a lethal impact on this population with already compromised lungs.

The BMC has taken aggressive measures in the slum pocket of Dharavi to contain the spread of COVID-19. Civic officials are looking at initiating similar measures in M (East) ward, said a senior BMC official.

The number of cases in the area has been increasing by at least 50-60 on an average since last two week. For example, The ward had reported 82 Covid 19 cases on April 14 in just two days, the number increased to 103 on April 16 it increased to 166 on April 22, the number further surged to 210 on April 25. The number has increased even further on April 27 and 28 however the civic body has discontinued uploading ward-wise data. As per the data shared on April 26, 25 COVID19 patients in the ward have fully recovered and discharged.

While the majority of areas across the city wears a deserted look since the lockdown was announced on March 25, with most of its citizens scrupulously following the nationwide lockdown, M (East) ward is among those areas which have been reportedly violating lockdown.

Despite the surge in the number of cases, the residents, especially those in the densely populated slum pockets have been ignoring safety advisories, orders by civic officials, police department and even local public representatives. "People here think coronavirus won't harm them. They continue to come down on the streets for no reason. They roam around the area with no masks," said Prakash Choughule, senior police inspector, Mankhurd police station.

According to Choughule, the citizens are openly and flagrantly defying all rules. "The reason for this, I think is complete lack of civic sense and responsibility among locals. Citizens here have no fear of the impact the virus can make on their lives and risk the lives of others around them. Repeated appeals/warnings, orders etc in this area falls on deaf ear. They would stay indoors only when our patrol teams are around as soon as the patrol teams leave, they come out and lead a normal lives like there is no coronavirus outbreak," Choughule said, adding, "It is not possible for the police to stand or keep a vigil 24x7 in every area."

So far, 50 persons have been booked for breaching lockdown rules in Mankhurd area alone. "We cannot get physical and beat up people as that is not the solution, also these residents create ruckus over any action we take against them. We are helpless and the only God can help these people now," Chougule added.

M (East) ward comprises of areas such as Shivaji Nagar, Mankhurd, Govandi, Deonar, Cheetah Camp, Trombay etc. and 80 per cent of its 10 lakhs population, lives in slums.

Local corporators in the ward, too have raised similar concerns. They have claimed that despite all relief work and awareness, people do not stay indoor. "The underlying problem is most of them live in small tenements. I am aware that many big families have to live in a 10x10 room. They find it difficult to live indoors throughout the day and feel suffocated inside, they complain," says Siddiqui Ruksana, the corporator from Samajwadi Party.

According to Siddiqui, despite all the efforts being put in by the civic authorities and police, people are not following the social distancing. "It is not as if we are doing nothing. Timely action is being taken against everyone. We are trying to lend helping hand to every person who is reaching out to us. But we too have our limitations. If a cop beats up men for flouting norms, they are accused of assaulting the innocents. But no one would think why the cops resorted to such extreme step," Ruksana said.

" It is understood if people come out of their homes and sit since they live in small houses. But youngsters area seen moving in the area on their bikes. They move around in groups and also do not bother to cover their face with masks. If we ask them to wear the mask, they start abusing us," said Dhiraj Yadav, a resident of Shivaji Nagar.

Despite continuous attempts to reach out to Sudhanshu Dwivedi, the assistant municipal commissioner of the ward, he was unavailable for a comment or to help with latest figures.

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