The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mumbai moves on, minus slums

Mumbai, July 29: Even as the water drains away from Mumbai’s pot-holed Western Express Highway, what emerges is the great rich-poor divide that gives the city its character.

Two days after the fatal rains lashed the city, much of Mumbai has limped back to “normality”. Local trains are back on track, BEST buses are plying in adequate numbers, night clubs are swinging, shopping malls are buzzing and multi-storeyeds stand where they are.

But not the slums, the worst affected in the floods. It is the slums from where most deaths have been reported. Many of these are sitting on health hazards of epidemic proportions.

In Nehru Nagar in Vile Parle, 18 people, including 11 children, died last night after a rumour of a tsunami descending.

Nehru Nagar is in Juhu, standing cheek by jowl with some of the most famous addresses in Mumbai, especially from the entertainment world, including Amitabh Bachchan’s. Juhu police station is a few feet away. The policemen apparently took one hour to reach the scene of the stampede.

The slum area, one of the biggest slums in Mumbai where 50,000 or more people are estimated to live, is still reeling under last night’s deaths. People are out on the streets, looking stunned. Women hold their babies to their breasts, thankful that their child was spared being trampled to death under the feet of neighbours.

There are death stories in every galli, which are narrow corridors between two rows of rooms.

“Three died in my galli,” says a girl standing at the end of one, and acts as the guide. She points to one room on the top of makeshift stairs. “A girl and her daddy, both died from that house,” she says.

A few rooms away sits Baburao, a technician. He lost his five-year-old daughter yesterday. He can barely speak.

“When the rumours started around 10 ’clock, my wife, our children and I ran out. I carried my eight-month-old son on my shoulders and my wife held our daughter. But they couldn’t run. How could they, in such a small space'” asks he. “My wife is admitted in Cooper Hospital in serious condition. She doesn’t know about our daughter,” he says.

The galli is about two feet wide. Hundreds of panic-stricken people had entered it in a rush.

But the worst might not be over. The slums are standing a few inches deep in the sewage water that came with the rains. Most of the water has risen from the drains below, with open iron grilles for covers.

It is swirling with all the filth that has collected from the open drains, garbage dumps that have not been cleared, carcasses of hundreds of cows, buffaloes and dogs that were killed by the rains, not to mention the occasional human dead body.

There is a stink everywhere. If the water is seeping into the floors of the rooms, ' Baburao’s family members motion not to take the shoes off ' it is also choking the green plastic pipes that carry “drinking water”. Each house is connected with one of these green pipes. At some places, the pipes have become disconnected, with the sewage water getting into them directly.

“Where is the kerosene to boil drinking water' We drink it directly,” says Sarita Devender, a maalishwalli.

The huge garbage dump at the pompous gate has not been cleared, nor the small ones all over the slums.

“It was the drains that killed more people yesterday. They stumbled over the covers and fell,” says Razzak Ali, the veteran paanwalla of the area who saw it happening.

There is no hope the water will clear, say the residents. Officials from Juhu police station say “health measures” are being taken, but cannot elaborate. The residents say there has been no one from the municipality or the police with any medicine or disinfectant.

“The garbage has not been cleared since Tuesday. We cleared some dead bodies of animals,” says Ali. “No one is bothered. But it has been like that for 45 years, when I came to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh. We survive.”

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