The day Dharavi reported its first coronavirus case, the whole country skipped a heartbeat. Even as Mumbai had already emerged as a hotspot of the Covid-19 outbreak, a Covid case in Dharavi spelt unprecedented doom. But despite being one of the most densely populated areas in the world with zero possibility of social distancing, Dharavi has set an example for the rest of the nation.

After an upsurge in Covid-19 cases through April and May, Dharavi has managed to decrease the number of new cases in June, by a lot. From June 1 to June 7, Dharavi did not register a single death due to coronavirus.

By June 10, Dharavi had reported 1,964 cases of the novel coronavirus. Out of this 73 people have died and 939 have recovered. Dharavi’s current doubling rate is 44 days, much higher than national doubling rate.

The task was not easy. It was a massive mission undertaken by Corona Warriors from Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Mumbai Police, hospitals, NGOs and sanitation department.

Why Dharavi was a massive challenge

Dharavi is Asia’s largest slum. It is spread over 2.5 square kilometres and has a population density of 227,136/squre kilometre. Dharavi is home to various small enterprises of leather, pottery, textiles, etc. It is one of the biggest unplanned settlements in Mumbai. The lanes are so narrow and the area is so large, if some unknown person happens to walk into the narrow lanes it will be difficult for that person to even come out of the settlement. Talks of rehabilitation of Dharavi are going on for several years now. Big lobbies of builders are already eyeing for the Dharavi because it is situated in the heart of the Mumbai city.

The houses are small and tightly packed. Often seven to eight people live in a small room. Most houses are not even at an arm’s distance from each other, making social distancing impossible. Despite a nationwide lockdown since March 25, the streets of Dharavi had continued to be crowded with daily hustle-bustle, up until the first case.

New cases in Dharavi since June 1:

New cases in Dharavi since June 1:


Number of new cases

June 1


June 2


June 3


June 4


June 5


June 6


June 7


June 8


First case in Dharavi

Ten days into nationwide lockdown, Mumbai officials’ worst fear came true. Dharavi reported a Covid-19 case. A man had died of the deadly virus.

Suddenly, Dharavi became the number one priority for the Mumbai officials. They knew if the Covid-19 spread is not contained here, the loss of lives will be uncontrollable. To avoid the catastrophe, officials came up with the plan to ensure proper sanitisation, screening and medical facilities.

The man heading the mission on the ground was Kiran Dighavkar, Assistant Municipal Commissioner of BMC. Dighavkar said, “Our priority was proactive screening ie, aggressive screening and testing. We conducted door-to-door screening of people. We ensured that private clinics, which had shut down due to panic, reopened and provided services. We also set up various fever clinics for early detection. Timely separation of suspected citizens from the community area was our priority. Another key area of focus was the disinfection of public toilets.”

Volunteers conduct thermal scanning of residents of Dharavi (PTI)

Stolen sanitisers

Lakhs of people only use public toilets in Dharavi. The area has 225 community toilets, 100 public toilets and 125 MHADA toilets. Authorities feared transmission of the virus through these public toilets. Since majority of residents of Dharavi have no choice but to use these public toilets, BMC decided to sanitise these facilities twice a day.

The BMC also kept bottles of sanitisers at every public toilet, but all of them were stolen within hours.

An official said, “The theft of sanitisers did not worry us as we knew that they would still be used by the people who stole them for a good purpose. Next, we decided to install santiser which could not be detached. It was little time consuming, but most of the public toilets now have santiser which cannot be removed from the facility.”

Massive team of corona warriors on the ground

A large team of officials has been deployed in Dharavi. A team of 2,750 BMC doctors, engineers, cleaners, nurses and ward boys are working night and day. Additionally, 1200 people from various sectors have been hired from outside to serve the area during Covid crisis.

To contain the Covid-19 spread, officials identified slum clusters with maximum cases. Thirteen high-risk areas were identified and contained. However, sealing these containment zones was difficult. The BMC had to ensure that people living in these zones get a supply of food, groceries and medicines without stepping out of their houses.

Areas within Dharavi that reported a high number of Covid-19 cases included Matunga Labour Camp (243 cases), Kumbharwada (116 cases), Mukund Nagar (86 cases), 90ft road (71 cases), Cross road (70 cases) and Transit Camp (57 cases). Some other areas like Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, Valmiki Nagar, etc, were also marked as containment zones.

Apart from residential areas, Covid-9 crisis also hit Dharavi police station hard. The police station registered 39 cases of the novel coronavirus. Shahunagar police station, which also serves parts of the Dharavi area, also lost a young police officer to the virus.

Not just cops, BMC officials and NGO workers deployed in Dharavi were also infected by Covid-19. The BMC officer, who was incharge of the food supply department in Dharavi, died due to the virus. The toughest period for the BMC was when 21 members of its staff tested positive in a single day. However, all of them have now recovered and are back on their duty in Dharavi.

As clinics started to shut down to panic, the BMC took over SaiHospital, AyushHospital, Life Care Hospital, Family care hospital and Prabhat nursing home to provide Coivid-19 medical facilities. However, as the patient load increased, critical patients and patients above 55 years of age were sent to peripheral hospitals.

Assistant Municipal Commissioner Dighavkar said, “Separating patients and social distancing is not possible in Dharavi. Also, finding open spaces in densely-populated areas like Dharavi is impossible. Therefore, quarantine facilities were made at Rajiv Gandhi Sports Complex, Mahim Nature Park, Dharavi municipal school, Manohar Joshi Vidyalaya, Ruparel College and D’Silva High School.”

A Covid facility with cardboard beds in Dharavi (PTI)

“All hostels, lodges and schools were taken over by the BMC to provide adequate quarantine facilities,” Dighavkar said.

In CCC1 facilities, multivitamin tablets, zinc, paracetamol, cough syrup, cetrizen and azitromycin were distributed. In CCC2 facilities, HCQ tablets to positive asymptomatic, multi-vitamin zinc cloroqueen to those below 15 years of age and above 55 yrs were given.

Food distribution

Over 25,000 grocery kits have distributed to the families living in Dharavi. Till now, over 17 lakhs food packets have been distributed. Earlier, 21,000 food packets were being distributed on a daily basis, which has come down to 7,000 food packets per day. During Ramzan, 11,000 Iftari food packets were distributed.

The cases in Dharavi may have come down but the battle is far from over. The real victory will be the day the area will be free of the deadly Covid-19 virus, which we hope happens soon.