Covid-19 In Dharavi : Let Crisis Be Turned Into a Solution


This article is in two parts. First about the Grim Situation of Dharavi. Second a Housing plan to help turn crisis into an opportunity.

Experts say we have to live with Covid-19, may be for two more years…until herd immunity builds up, there is no real solution to masses of people :  Vaccines and medicines, as and when they come, are not going to be a real solution, more so for the vast masses.

Dharavi is home to an estimated one million people, including thousands of migrant workers left jobless by a weeks-long nationwide lockdown, who eke out a living as factory workers or maids and chauffeurs to the financial capital Mumbai’s well-heeled residents. Its narrow alleys, crowded housing and poor sanitation offer the perfect breeding ground for the virus.

“The biggest challenge is Dharavi itself… 10 to 15 people stay in one room. How is it possible to enforce social distancing?” asked city official Kiran Dighavkar. He is overseeing an effort involving some 2,500 people, including medical workers, cleaners and volunteers, who are fighting to keep cases from spiralling out of control and overwhelming hospitals.  “No-one is allowed to go in or out,” Dighavkar told AFP, adding that “everything, including grocery shops, is shut”.

Mumbai (18-million population) took 57 days to reach 10,000 cases (an average of 175 cases per day, just to see the grave situation worsening daily.)  But May 7 alone saw 1362 new cases , total 18120 in the state. The lockdown in Mumbai, and Dharavi, may have to be extended – even with a few exemptions –  beyond the third phase as per present strategy.

As per a projection by the central government (going by the doubling rate of 10 days), Mumbai could see around 29,000 cases by mid-May. Mumbai’s civic body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), has made a projection of 75,000 cases by the end of May.

Mumbai recorded its first coronavirus positive case on March 11. It took over 25 days for the cases to cross the 2000 mark. On 16 April, Mumbai had recorded 2,043 cases. Further, it took only 7 days for this number to double and on 23 April, the city recorded 4,232 cases. In another 9 days, on 2 May, the city recorded 8172 cases

Dharavi alone has recorded 632 cases and 20 deaths as of 4 May. With a population of around 1 million, Dharavi, which recorded its first positive case in April-start, has become a serious point of concern. Asia’s biggest slum, with apopulation density of over 200,000 people per square kilometer can’t possibly know what social-distancing really is – even if people residing there wanted it with all their might.

On 30 April, the number of positive cases in Dharavi was 369 so it took less than 4 days for the positive cases to almost double up. The city observed 5,071 tests per million.

Narrow lanes, open sewers, sharing toilets, congested rooms, more than 5 people in one room, common water source among scores of people, etc are just a few reasons why battling coronavirus in this area is no less than a nightmare.

And Dharavi’s 225 public toilets — a lifeline for its residents — are being disinfected daily, it is reported.  

Experts believe high population density and over 50% population residing in shanty towns or slums with shared sanitation and water resources have led to a grave situation that Mumbai finds itself in during the pandemic.

A state-run school, a sports complex and a formerly defunct hospital are being used to house patients and as quarantine facilities.

Mumbai is an entry point of travel and trade – it’s a high centre of work, of migrant labour living in tight conditions all which cause infectious diseases to spread.

Air travel may be relaxed in coming weeks. US and Europe are highly affected. About 2 lakh Indians, as on May 7, in UAE registered themselves planning to come back home as per India’s Consul General in Dubai. A quarter of them lost their jobs already. 40 per cent of them are workers, and 20 percent professionals, and 10 per cent were on tourist visas who got stranded.. per a BBC report, May7.


A healthcare worker visits a slum in Dharavi in Mumbai as part of the medical screening operation on May 6, Wednesday.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)

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Draft Plan for a Housing Project, frugal and fast track


An unknown, unseen, tiny enemy is troubling the entire planet earth. The rich-poor, developed-underdeveloed, north-south, east-west, all are  affected by carona, without any exceptions. India though to a lesser extent is also affected.

The most affected state in the country is Maharashtra without any doubt. Mumbai, the capital, also the commercial capital of the country is maximum affected.

DHARAVI, one of the largest slums of the world has become the focus of attention presently.

Dharavi is spread over an area of 2.1 sq kms plus, accommodating about ten lakhs of people, slum dwellers. With congested living, with each toilet being used by scores of people, some by  over  100 people — social (better physical) distancing and home quarantine suggested in certain cases,  the isolation of the affected have  become a challenge to the  administration. The high population density of the area, as also the limited resources of working people living there, is a real and serious problem.

A challenge when addressed properly, in crisis times, becomes an opportunity to resolve problems. And Dharavi can and should be tackled as such. Some suggestions are given below, with an approach of frugal engineering, which may be studied and modified or improved with a view to address the problem, sooner than later.

Constraints of capital, time and labor should be taken into account.

The govt should take over the whole Dharavi area. Besides the above , there about 3lakh pavement dwellers etc in Mumbai who have no roof above their head.    

A square km area is 1000M×1000M×10.75(1Sq M =10.75 Sq ft) I.e., more than 1crore sq ft. If we build 10 floored flats, (permitted in that area) in a sq. km area, we get 10 crores sq ft area of living accommodation. It provides 100sq ft for each of the 10 lakhs population theoretically. ( Dharavi+3 lakhs pavement people as above). In practice, however, we have to provide 40 percent more area for ventilation etc.

10 lakh population is about 2.5 lakh families. Each family has at least a child below 5years age who does not need a separate room. Thus we get 25% spare place. Balance 15% we can take from the 2.1 sq km of Dharavi.

We are still left with a little less than one Sq Km(0.95 to be exact). We can go for school complex, hospital complex, marketing complex, a recreation place to the extent possible. Since the area is between two railway lines, plan for a Dharavi Railway station. Let us not go for major road net work in view of place constraint. In planning all the above we go for frugal engineering to save time and money, ie only essentials are provided, no luxuries. Why not we go for the above?

World Bank, WHO, Britain Slum Development Program or similar bodies can provide the funding. Big Business Houses as part of their CSR activities – Tatas, Ambanis, Adanis and similar business houses –  should also be ready to help. Free cement, steel etc inputs, including their delivery  can be provided by the manufacturers.

The labour, masons, electricians, plumbers etc are to be drawn preferably from Dharavi to the extent possible. That would provide work to them, and minimize movements.

Existing schemes, of the Centre like PMAY-Urban, and the State Govt.,  for Housing the poor can be dove-tailed to meet various costs, including labor and transport. Suitable designs and blue prints may be prepared; suitably modifying those worked out in the past can also be considered. Green and Energy-saving models should be adopted to the possible extent.

Telangana Govt. had planned for 2BHK Housing scheme, totally subsidized, for eligible home-less BPL families. It is delayed but executed in a few places. Its design and experiences can be factored in.

We should start the work right now, without waiting for a muhurtam,  on a war footing, by accommodating part of the people in nearby schools,colleges, function halls etc – now closed due to  lockdown – following all necessary corona precautions.

While designing the project, provision should be made in a cost-effective manner, for supplying drinking water, electrical power,piped cooking gas, sanitation and drainage systems.

Finally the Corporation (BMC), the state govt, the central govt have to work in close coordination. All political parties, NGOs have to provide valuable, constructive suggestions and cooperation. Even the courts have to bless the project, so that the down-trodden homeless people and  the slum dwellers are provided a roof over their heads, a respectable living and also a place to stand up in great epidemics like the present one.

Once the country sees and ensures a success here, we can try in other cities like Kolkata, Delhi etc with better versions. The govt will be blessed by the downtrodden, hapless people by voting to power.

(Srirama. M. is basically an electrical engineer, who worked in coal mine industry of Singareni Collieries of Telangana. He worked in all four districts where mining was spread over. He retired as Chief General Manager. With decades of experience, in managing one lakh strong man-power, including their housing colonies. He worked from the ground level as an Engineer and Manager, and was trained in Cost Accountancy too. He himself lives in a frugal way, in an old house, in a small town.)




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