This document outlines an urban action plan in the second phase of the lockdown (14th April to 30th April 2020) imposed by the government during the COVID-19 outbreak. Included in this post is the introduction section, the summary of recommendations, and the list of contributors and signatories.
The government’s role is not simply to declare a lockdown and enforce it. Rather, it is to set up mechanisms and services such that people do not have to move out of their homes out of fear, want or desperation. The government’s response needs to encourage physical distancing, not to coerce it. Apart from taking appropriate economic measures and preventing supply chain breakdowns at the national and state levels, the public planning response needs to address the challenges in dense urban settlements at the ward and neighbourhood levels – challenges that are compounded by the staggering socio-economic inequities that are a result of decades of disastrous ‘market-oriented’ planning and development policy. It has been the pre-pandemic “normal” that has imposed severe limits on a systematic government response during the pandemic.
From an urban planning perspective, the goal of physical distancing requires that (1) people do not converge one place – especially in an enclosed environment – to risk spread; (2) we minimize the need for people to have to move out of their homes; (3) we carry out proactive testing and provide enhanced access to healthcare: checkups, testing, treatment – to be able to detect cases quickly; isolating, caring for and treating those infected; and preventing others from getting infected.
In Mumbai, the current approach so far has been to force people to stay home (by punishing those who venture out), and imposing strict quarantines in areas where cases have been detected. The MCGM has taken some steps thus far with regard to testing centres, mapping cases and quarantines. Nevertheless, a rapid opinion survey conducted by speaking to 50 respondents in low income neighbourhoods reveals that 68% of respondents find the food problem “very difficult” or “a crisis.” About 77% of the respondents report that they are not receiving food as promised, and 23% find that while they are receiving food supplies, these are insufficient. A full daily summary of the survey (Annex 1) and an area wise list of urgent issues (Annex 2) shows difficulties faced by people in terms of food, sanitation, water supply as well as healthcare.
The MCGM must declare a financial policy for COVID-19. Despite these very serious and urgent challenges that require prioritizing public health, food security, basic services and shelter, the MCGM continues work on non-essential infrastructure projects like the Rs. 13,000 Coastal Road project – instead of diverting these resources on tackling the pandemic.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
- There need to be special mechanisms for people to voice their grievances – the civic administration is now unreachable since the ward offices are operating on a skeletal basis.
- The PDS must be universalized, and rations for atleast 3 months should be made available for free to anyone who approaches a ration shop till the economic shock of the lockdown subsides.
- The MCGM must urgently open up many more cooked food distribution centres, and spread them out based on population density (more centres in electoral wards with higher densities). Each of the distribution centres must also limit the provision (to say 200-300 packets per shift) to ensure that too many people do not gather in them.
- The MCGM must set up a mobile fleet of food delivery vans that can reach different places on call.
- A moratorium must be declared on all evictions by state authorities, or by landlords due to rent defaults. The government must device a program to protect informal rental tenants from evictions.
- The government must immediately set up an emergency shelter program through which government buildings, institutions, and un-allotted (but acceptable) rehabilitation units are all prepared for accommodation in conformity with physical distancing norms.
- The government may also consider renting rooms from hotels / guest houses for the duration of the lockdown for people who need safe and adequate housing.
- Vacant rehabilitation housing (that meets public health and safety standards) needs to be opened up as self-quarantine homes for infected persons or persons with symptoms in areas where infection rates are high.
- Migrant workers who are keen to return to their villages must be allowed to leave in safe and dignified manner. The government must therefore make all the arrangements, after testing people for COVID infection, and provide a free and safe passage for the uninfected to leave.
- Sanitation equipment (masks, sanitizers, disinfectants, etc) and training must be provided to community based organisations to take necessary precautions and for sanitizing their own neighbourhoods. This equipment may be supplied by the city’s public bus system (BEST) that continues to operate buses during the lockdown.
- All available public toilet infrastructure (privately built public toilets, toilets at railway stations, in public spaces, etc) be opened up without charge during the lockdown. The MCGM must set up mobile toilets in areas lacking sanitation facilities.
- The MCGM must ensure that water supply in all slum settlements by installing stand-post connections on an urgent basis in areas where a municipal supply network exists, or by installing large capacity water tanks with multiple taps. Where both these options are unfeasible, tanker supply must be arranged on a regular basis (at least twice daily).
- COVID testing must be made free of cost at both public and private labs, to advance the detection of cases in the city. Testing is the most important measure in being able to combat the pandemic, and any barriers to proactive testing must be removed.
- Frequent check-ups and tests of all of the frontline workers must be undertaken every few days. Proper gear and safety equipment must be made available at regular intervals as considered appropriate by health experts.
- Government must take over private/charitable hospitals for testing and treatment if necessary, and treatment for COVID-19 should be free of cost in the public as well as private facilities.
- The MCGM must declare a financial policy for Covid 19, setting aside spending on all non-essential infrastructure projects (such as the coastal road) to ensure it has adequate resources.
- Collective for Spatial Alternatives (CSA)
- Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGBA)
- Homeless Collective (HC)
- Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)
- Paani Haq Samiti (PHS)
- All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC)
- Aamchi Mumbai Aamchi BEST (AMAB)
- Habitat and Livelihood Welfare Association (HALWA)
- Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan (JSA)
- Movement for Peace and Justice (MPJ)
- Photography Promotion Trust (PPT)
- People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Maharashtra