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Panic freezes Maximum City

Radheshyam Jadhav | Updated on July 10, 2020 Published on July 10, 2020

Flight mode: Mumbai embarks on ‘Mission Begin Again’ even as cases spike amid a lockdown   -  ARUNAGSU ROY CHOWDHURY

Mumbai wants to move ahead from the grips of a pandemic, but clearly worries about the consequences, as underlined by the continued suspension of its mainstays — the Central and Western Railway, the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, Bollywood and dabbawallas

* Panic binds Mumbai city, which is filled with migrants from other parts of the state and country. The industrial sector in Mumbai is reeling under the lockdown and business hubs remain closed.

Surya Gune finds herself in a dilemma. The Mumbai college where she teaches is considering asking all staff to resume work, but her family in Sangamner in Nashik wants her back home. The Maharashtra government is keen on its ‘Mission Begin Again’ policy — gradually ushering in life as it was before Covid-19 — but Gune is not sure that normalcy is around the corner yet.

More than 100 days after the government announced a nationwide lockdown, the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to wield terror in Maharashtra, the worst-hit state in the country. The case count rose to over 2 lakh in the first week of July, with 40 per cent (84,524) recorded in the Mumbai municipal area. “There is fear all around. During the lockdown, I worked from home but now I may have to visit my college. The government says there are restrictions on movement, but I can see regular traffic jams and crowds,” says Gune, who commutes from Borivali to her college in Churchgate.

It is not just Gune who is worried. Panic binds the city of over 1.24 crore people, most of them migrants from other parts of the state or the country. The industrial sector in Mumbai is reeling under the lockdown and business hubs remain closed.

“There is lockdown and also there is ‘Mission Begin Again’. People are struggling to understand the government’s stand and frequent notifications,” says VD Sawant, a Mumbai resident. “How can we return to normal mode when Covid-19 cases are rising?”

How indeed? The state capital, with leading corporate houses and firms, where Asia’s oldest stock exchange, the Bombay Stock Exchange, is located, seeks to embrace the old normal. But reality threatens to play spoilsport. According to figures made public on July 5, out of 84,524 Covid-19 patients in Mumbai, 55,884 had recovered, 23,732 were still infected and 4,899 had died.

To help arrest the pandemic, the Mumbai Police on July 1 imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure till July 15, banning all movement — except for emergency and some other services — from 9pm to 5am. The state had eased restrictions last month, allowing the plying of private vehicles and public buses. People were also allowed to access parks. But that led to crowds, and subsequent concerns about the spread of Covid-19.

Residents had hoped that Uddhav Thackeray, the first Mumbai-born chief minister of the state, would bring the situation under control. “The (government) machinery is working day and night in Mumbai... but the fight has not yet finished. The number of patients coming (to hospitals) in the last stage for treatment still prevails. This number should reduce,” Thackeray told officials of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation at a recent meeting.

That, for the present, seems like a distant dream. Though the civic body estimates revenues worth ₹28,448.3 crore for 2020-21 — which is more than the budgets of many small states — it has largely been seen as unable to rein in the Covid-19 crisis. The city, for instance, does not have enough medical facilities to handle a pandemic.

“The virus-infected healthcare system of Mumbai is showing symptoms of failure,” civic activist Jeetendra Ghadge rues.

Right now, Mumbai is a city of contradictions. It wants to move ahead, but clearly worries about the consequences, as underlined by the continued suspension of its mainstays — the Central and Western Railway, the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, Bollywood and dabbawallas. The Railway had resumed operations for people involved in the essential service sector. But there is no word on when it will resume full operations — its 3,029 daily services.

Likewise, the Ganesh festival, a humongous annual 10-day celebration, always pulled crowds and lifted spirits. But many Ganesh mandals are withdrawing from the August 22 celebrations. The famous Lalbaugcha Raja Ganesh Mandal has said it will instead organise blood and plasma donation camps and provide financial aid to families of police personnel felled by the virus.

Bollywood stares at an uncertain future, too. Shoots have been allowed with certain terms and conditions, but the entertainment industry is sceptical about films being screened in theatres in the near future.

Mumbai’s iconic dabbawalas — who have been delivering lunch to the city’s workforce for decades — have suspended their service from March 19. Many of the delivery men have returned to their villages or hometowns and are working in fields.

Mumbaikars believe that only when the dabbawalas are back on the roads can one say that the city is in normal mode.

Radheshyam Jadhav

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Published on July 10, 2020
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