Mumbai 2021: The year that was


view of the taj hotel in mumbai from the ground
Representative Image | Photo: Arju Babu, Pexels

The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end. At this moment in our country’s history, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved three of India’s vaccines, and over 50% of adults are fully vaccinated. As the world prepares for the possibility of another deadly wave, brought on by the Omicron variant of COVID-19, let’s take a moment to remember and acknowledge how our cities fought the second wave earlier this year, that claimed over 4,00,000 people. How our local governments and citizens raced against time to crowdfund, uplift, and save lives. How our economies fell apart and how we sustained ourselves through community support and individual passion. How, at the end of one wave, we are more informed now than before, and can apply lessons from the last two years to move forward into another year of COVID-19.

The second wave of COVID-19 for Mumbai

This year was the hardest for ‘maximum city’ Mumbai. Overly-crowded and consistently redeveloped, the city had recorded over 500 cases by January 2021, with the total death toll at 11, 276. Maharashtra quickly became the first state to record over 20 lakh cases since the onset of the pandemic.

By April 22nd, the second wave had engulfed Mumbai. With 7367 cases a day and a crumbling healthcare infrastructure, the question on everyone’s minds was: did anyone see this coming? At Citizen Matters, Tanvi Deshpande spoke to mathematician Dr Murad Banaji, who was closely looking at COVID-19 data, in her article titled, COVID-19 second wave: Why no one saw this coming. Dr Banaji claimed that his calculations could not predict the severity and pace of the wave, but could predict that another wave was inevitable.

Compared to other cities, Mumbai responded to the crisis better. As cities like Delhi scrambled to equip hospitals, and fell back on social media and personal contacts for arranging hospital beds, oxygen and emergency services, the Supreme Court praised the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for how it handled the pandemic, calling the ‘Mumbai model’ remarkable work. From starting as one of the worst hit in the country, what worked for Mumbai?

Mumbai’s COVID-19 management was greatly applauded | Photo: Flickr, Public Domain Mark 1.0

A report by the The Economist attributed Mumbai’s COVID management to decentralised administrative structures and data-driven planning. Information and action plans were coordinated through 23 ‘war rooms’ (control centres), one for each administrative district. An online and public dashboard was consistently updated with information from each war room, with availability of hospital beds and other important data. The report added that a unitary municipal corporation was more efficient in the distribution and collation of COVID-19 data from across the state.

The BMC was also able to detect rising cases of tuberculosis in the city by kickstarting door-to-door screening. A Citizen Matters article by Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra, titled, As we go into another lockdown, a look at TB numbers in Mumbai, outlined how screening drives were conducted to enable the early detection of TB patients, who needed to ensure continuing treatment given their particular vulnerability to COVID-19.

Later in the year, however, looking at deaths during COVID-19 years more closely, Sabah Virani dug deeper into understanding why official data had an unexplained number of deaths, or ‘excess deaths’, in an article titled, Were there more COVID-19 deaths in Mumbai than we know? Sabah’s research led her to find evidence suggesting a serious undercounting of COVID-19 deaths in the city.

Read more: Much of Mumbaikars’ health concerns can be traced back to its water

Developmental projects

On August 27th, the Minister for Environment and Tourism (Govt of Maharashtra), Aditya Thackeray, launched the Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP). Citizen Matters published a series of articles addressing key points of the proposal, suggesting changes to make it better, and comparing dialogue with ground realities.

The first, by Tanmay Shinde, titled, How the Mumbai Climate Action Plan can be made better, outlined suggestions to alter the MCAP proposal for better implementation, with an eye on sustainability. Suggesting stricter policies for waste segregation, recommending strategies for conservation and restoration of greenery and measures to be taken for energy-efficient and environment-friendly buildings, Tanmay weighed down on all six key points of the MCAP proposal.

The second, by Sabah Virani, titled, Mumbai Climate Action Plan has the potential to be a game changer. Here’s how, recognised the MCAP as critical to the city’s climate future, but at the same time highlighted how much work is yet to be done. Speaking to several experts, Sabah found that the opinion at large is against BMC’s ability to tackle climate change fears, since the municipal body is spearheading several, large projects in the city to reduce traffic congestion.

In an article titled, Four things which the Mumbai Climate Action Plan must seriously address, Yash Agarwal was able to identify that there is currently no research supporting BMC’s claim that building more roads or transportation routes does, in fact, reduce traffic. By citing comparisons with the work of other countries, Yash highlighted that the only plan that has actually worked, globally, is reduction of vehicles in cities. This, he also pointed out, is a key point that MCAP must address.

Concerns over Mumbai’s environment became more serious in 2021, as the BMC planned to execute more construction that environmentalists have flagged as disastrous. The infamous coastal road project, that has sparked outrage in the city, was briefly halted by the pandemic but has restarted and is projected to be complete by July 2023. The project aims to reclaim the Arabian Sea to build a 29.2 km road from Nariman Point in South Mumbai to Kandivali in the western suburbs. Until now, 60% of the sea has been reclaimed, directly impacting fishing villages and Mumbai’s vulnerable coast. Since its inception, anger towards it has only risen, and for Citizen Matters, Ajay Kamalakaran compiled a series of arguments against its construction in an article titled, The case against Mumbai’s Coastal Road project.

a man on a beach in Mumbai prepares for a clean-up
Representative Image | Photo: Parij PhotographyPexels

Sabah Virani, in her article Has urban planning in Mumbai failed? raises pertinent questions surrounding Mumbai’s overall policy and strategy of urbanisation. Sabah interviewed urban expert Lalitha Kamath and discussed the city’s socio-economic structures, slum developments and current urban failures.

2022 BMC elections explained

With so much in the pipeline for Mumbai, from (re)developments to another possible COVID-19 wave, the impending BMC elections are crucial. Citizen Matters will be covering the elections in depth with profiles of candidates and constituencies, important guides and explainers, and regular updates so that all Mumbaikars have an easy accessible platform to understand and engage in the electoral process.

Until now, we’ve published a series of articles covering previous promises made by political parties in the city, and where they are now, and have curated guides for citizens who are preparing to vote. A series of articles by Hepzi Anthony looks at promises made in the areas of Water Supply, Public Spaces, Property Taxes and more. Sabah Virani explains how, to be able to vote, you can get your voter ID, and Hepzi further explains what determines candidacy in BMC elections.

As another eventful year for Mumbai comes to an end, we want to know what you think are the key civic issues in the city that need to be addressed. As we prepare for the new year, your feedback will help us understand what Mumbaikars need to read about, towards understanding their city better. You can fill our survey here.

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About Saachi DSouza 10 Articles
Saachi is an Associate Editor at Citizen Matters Mumbai