Decision to covert buildings in Mahul as quarantine centers may prove fatal to suspected COVID 19 affected persons  

Mumbai | 3rd April, 2020: It is shocking to know that the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has chosen Mahul to set up one of the quarantine centers to accommodate 5000-10000 people. Mahul has been declared as uninhabitable by two Indian Courts given the toxic environment due to the presence of polluting industries. It is well established that pollution has an adverse impact on the health of an individual, and the decision to shift suspected patients under quarantine to “toxic” Mahul could not only compromise their health but also their chances to fight the disease. Moreover, over 300 people have died in less than 2 years in Mahul and those who are currently staying there suffer from a variety of health conditions such as Tuberculosis, respiratory disorder, heart conditions, cancer, among other diseases. As has been widely reported by health organisations worldwide and medical institutions and experts in the country, the existence of co-morbidities i.e. underlying medical conditions in COVID-19 patients, leads to inability of the body to fight the disease and higher chances of mortality in those affected.

Air pollution is leading cause of respiratory illness in Indian population. Studies have linked COVID-19 to ARDS (Acute respiratory Distress Syndrome). In one study conducted in Wuhan, China, 191 corona virus patients were examined and found that out of 54 deaths, 50 patients died of ARDS, while only 9 of 137 survivors had ARDS. This study shows ARDS as significant cause of death in COVID -19 patients. Patients of COVID -19 primarily present with symptoms of respiratory tract infection like fever, sore throat, nasal congestion etc. As also patients with previous respiratory illness are at higher risk for the severity of this illness. There are high chances that patient condition can worsen due to the high level of air pollution in Mahul and they may require intensive care which can add to the burden of the health care system.

Studies of the Mahul resettlement colony (CSA, IIT-B) have shown that the scheme is poorly planned and designed. Its sanitation system is inadequate and dysfunctional, facilities for community use are insufficient, buildings are of faulty arrangement, congested and improperly designed, streets and alleys are too narrow to provide adequate light and ventilation to the rooms. The sewage and water supply system are present side by side on the ground leading to contamination of water supply system. With possibility of coronavirus being transmitted through the building sewage pipes, it again makes Mahul an unsuitable place. Furthermore, Mahul has tenement densities more than twice the maximum recommended by national planning norms for a minimally acceptable quality of life. One of the ways of preventing the spread of this infection is to maintain Social Distancing, which is impossible in an area like Mahul and with creation of a quarantine center there, it can easily become an epicenter for the spread of this infection as many families would be living in such close proximity with quarantine population of 5000-10000 living among them. Hence, over and above the pollution, basic requirements such as proper cross ventilation, hygiene, sanitation etc. that are a must for quarantine centre are missing in Mahul.

In other words, Mahul is absolutely unfit for human habitation, much less for treatment and care. To establish a quarantine centre in Mahul would not be beneficial from the health point of view, but would prove detrimental towards efforts taken by MCGM to control this pandemic.

On 18th December, 2015, the Hon’ble NGT had observed that  “Considering such observations and also, the demonstrated link between the prevalent ambient air quality at Mahul and Ambapada villages with the health impacts in those areas, it can be observed that there is a perceptible threat to health of the residents of village   Mahul   and   Ambapada   due   to   prevailing   air quality in the area.” Based on this observation and on a report prepared by the IIT-Bombay, MPCB, CPCB and NEERI, vide orders dated 3rd April 2019 and 23rd September 2019, the Bombay High Court had directed the Government of Maharashtra to relocate people from Mahul to a non-toxic place.When three consecutive courts have declared the place uninhabitable and the High Court, Bombay has passed orders on two occasions directing the government to shift out those living in Mahul since it is uninhabitable and provide them alternate permanent housing, it is unfathomable that such step is even being considered by the government. Instead of choosing a safe place and providing healthy environment to those under quarantine so that they get adequate care and don’t become sources of infection, the government has decided to send them to a place which is not at all suitable for COVID-19 suspected patients as well as the residents living in Mahul, who ordinarily should have been shifted last year itself in compliance of the order, which has not yet been fully done.

The government has several alternatives to Mahul where it can safely shift suspected Covid-19 patients and others under quarantine and provide necessary facilities without endangering lives. There are abundantly available high end houses in Mumbai (being more than 2 lakh empty houses) for the government to convert into quarantine centers. The government can also consider taking over the currently empty community centers, spacious schools and institutions, empty hostels or residential buildings, government buildings and other large empty living spaces in Mumbai and converting them into quarantine centre. In any event, Mahul is not a fit place for this.

Hence, we demand immediate withdrawal of the decision to set up or convert any building in Mahul as quarantine center.

Dr. Amar Jesani – Independent Researcher and Teacher (Bioethics, Public Health)

Anita Dhole –Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan

Avinash Kadam- Jan Swasthya Abhiyan , Mumbai

Bilal Khan – Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan

Brinelle Dsouza – Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, Mumbai

Dr. Chaitanya Patil –

Hussain Indorewala – Teacher and Urban Researcher, Assistant Professor, K.R.V.I.A.E.S

Kamayani Bali Mahabal – Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, Mumbai

Lara Jesani – Advocate, People’s Union for Civil Liberties

Dr. Murtuza Ghiya – M.D. Emergency Medicine, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine

Dr. Nidhin Joseph – Public Health Physician

Dr. Randall Sequeria – Public Health Physician

Dr. Shehla Ansari –  Public Health Physician