<br>Despite the ongoing lockdown since March 25, in most parts of Dharavi, its business as usual, prompting Health Minister Rajesh Tope to take note of it and instruct police to "implement lockdown strictly" there.
"In Dharavi, lockdown must be enforced strictly besides ensuring social distancing. The police must take it seriously and take stern measures," Tope told mediapersons.
However, the minister indicated that it may not be necessary to completely seal Dharavi, though norms would be implemented strongly in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
This afternoon, there were shocking visuals of long queues of people awaiting their turn for collecting meals being distributed by some NGOs, and though most sported masks, there was little evidence of social distancing in the queues.
In the morning and evening, the streets seemed to be full and bustling with most activities in the region, with security personnel seemingly helpless to enforce lockdown norms, and today some cops gave a friendly lecture and sit-ups to a few youths loitering around.
Started as a workers' settlement 135 years ago on the outskirts of the then Bombay, Dharavi -- literally meaning 'quick sand' -- covers just 2.25 sq. km housing over 200,000 families besides over 20,000 big and small businesses generating revenues of an estimated Rs 7,000 crore.
"The biggest problem here is congestion. Lakhs of people live or work in cramped quarters -- 8-10 persons in a 100-sq feet room, with common sanitation (toilet) facilities. How can there be social distancing in such conditions," wonders a local businessman Salim Shaikh, living in nearby Antop Hill.
Another problem is the dirt, squalor and unhygienic conditions that make it a sitting duck in case of any contagious outbreak or even fires, as the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has sealed several buildings and taken up regular but thorough sanitization drives in Dharavi, including one today.
Mumbaikar Pradeep Sathyadas, who lives in Mahim, on the fringes of Dharavi, but commutes to work through Dharavi to Masjid Bunder, the current lockdown is "like a blessing".
"I shudder to imagine what would happen here if the pandemic becomes more serious. "It's already teeming with people virtually 24x7, how can you control so many, where can you shift these lakhs of humans, even temporarily," said Sathyadas.
Both Shaikh and Sathyadas say that people from Dharavi move all around Mumbai and could pose a big health risk if the situation goes out of control.
Despite the squalid settings, people of all faiths live and work here harmoniously, eking out a living, some hand-to-mouth, and some literally minting money here while living in posh housing complexes elsewhere in the city.
Though Mumbai has so far notched 686 Covid-19 positive cases, only a small number are from Dharavi, both in terms of infectees and deaths.
Dharavi -- the subject of several Indian ('Dharavi', 1993 Hindi film, National Award Winner) and international ('Slumdog Millionaire', multiple Oscar Award Winner) films and books (Gregory David Roberts' bestseller 'Shantaram', 2003) -- sprawls from Mahim on Western Railway to Sion-Matunga on Central Railway and spills over into many adjoining areas.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: [email protected])