MUMBAI: The city’s housing crisis, with over half its 12 million-plus people packed into cramped tenements and slums, was best exemplified recently when a Covid-19 positive woman requested authorities not to discharge her from the NSCI quarantine centre. The Worli BDD chawl resident feared going back to her 180 sq ft house and infecting her husband and child due to lack of quarantine space.
Like her, hundreds who have tested positive live in congested conditions, many in slum clusters around Dharavi, Mankhurd, Govandi. Experts said the virus has been spreading rapidly in such pockets dotted with tenements and shanties separated by narrow lanes, and where residents use common public toilets.
Since 1997, the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) has constructed through private builders 2.05 lakh tenements; another 3 lakh are under construction. The SRA has now firmed up plans to expand them from 269 sq ft to 300 sq ft. But progress is slow. In 2018, the planning committee for Mumbai’s new development plan said in the past two decades, barely 12% of 12 lakh slum families identified for rehabilitation have been assigned new homes. “At this pace, it will take another 250 years to rid Mumbai of its slums,’’ said the committee.
Given the grim living conditions of the poor, the housing wing has now formed a panel to look into their problems under Dr Shashank Joshi, a renowned endocrinologist, diabetologist and medical researcher. State home minister Jitendra Awhad tweeted it “will engage with all stakeholders… help to have an operational plan to execute some key deliverables in the population dense slum geographies like Dharavi, Mankhurd, Govandi’’ said Awhad.
According to the 2011 census, Mumbai has 12.4 million people of which 41% live in slums. “As even a one BHK flat is unaffordable, they live in tiny houses and slums,’’ said Sanjay Shinde, an activist raised in Dharavi. He suggested dispensaries across Dharavi to help those who are vulnerable to the virus.