From vegetable kits to ration coupons: Pune slum keeps virus at bay

With efforts of volunteers and cooperation by residents, the slum has not seen a positive case so far

The population density in the slum is approximately 545 people per acre that is around half of that of Dharavi. Photo: Pune Municipal Corporation

When Dharavi — the country’s largest slum in Mumbai — has witnessed around 800 COVID-19 cases so far, another slum with a population density of almost half of Dharavi’s has successfully managed to keep the virus at bay.

Janata Vasahat is a slum in Pune, which is one of the COVID-19 hotspots in the country. With zero cases as on date, the slum could achieve this due to the efforts of volunteers and co-operation by the residents.

Janata Vasahat Kruti Samiti, a committee of around 17 Ganeshotsav Mandals, began its fight against the coronavirus as soon as the outbreak was identified. Since then, its volunteers have been taking all precautions, given the vulnerability of the densely-populated locality to the disease.

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The slum has around 60,000 dwellers residing in about 14,000 to 15,000 shanties. Spanning 110 acres, it is located in the centre of the city beside a hill alongside Sinhgad Road. The population density in the slum is approximately 545 people per acre that is around half of that of Dharavi (1,272 people per acre).

Spearheading the fight in the locality Suraj Lokhande tells The Federal their first step was to create awareness among people. “We began moving around with a speaker and I myself started telling them the dangers of coronavirus and preventive measures to be taken to keep the virus away.”

Since Lokhande himself is a resident of the slum, he could easily gain the confidence of the people in informing them about their safety. As early as March, volunteers started distributing masks and sanitizers across the slum. They also sanitized all the streets with help from the municipal corporation.

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Lokhande says the volunteers had shut seven out of eight entry points to the slum and only one was kept open. Even at that entrance, the Samiti installed a disinfection tunnel to ensure the safety of every entrant. “The tunnel is so huge that even a bike can pass through it and get sanitized,” says Lokhande.

The next task that awaited the volunteers is providing essentials to the people to ensure that they don’t step out of their houses unnecessarily. “The committee, with the help of 15 volunteers, had started making vegetable kits and distributed it across the slum.”

Volunteers preparing vegetable kits to distribute to the residents of Janata Vasahat. Photo: Suraj Lokhande

Costing ₹111, the kit consists of five different vegetables with one kg each along with green chillies and lemon. “Around 1,000 such kits are being distributed every day,” says Lokhande.

Also, the volunteers distribute 200 coupons every day for rations from the government-run shops. “Only 200 persons can go and get ration every day because of [the limited number of] coupons. This way, we reduced the crowding at a huge extent and there was no confusion among people,” he says.

People collect coupons from the volunteers and get their ration. This also facilitated the practice of social distancing even at places where the potential crowd was expected, he says. Old people and widows in the area get everything delivered at their doorsteps by the volunteers.

Chetan Kabade, assistant commissioner of Sinhgad Road ward of Pune Municipal Corporation tells The Federal, “We made sure that toilets in Janata Vasahat are sanitized every day. Also, the whole area was sanitized in the beginning.” He says the efforts of the people have been really helpful in keeping the virus away from the locality.

Healthcare workers checking body temperature of a resident of Janata Vasahat. Photo: Suraj Lokhande

The corporation has surveyed the area to check if anyone had symptoms for COVID-19 or illness. Around 45,000 people have been surveyed to date and, so far, there has been not even a single case from the area, says Kabade.

The committee has an ambulance parked outside the slum round the clock. If any person feels sick, the ambulance immediately takes the person to the nearest hospital for the treatment, says Lokhande.

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