Mosquitoes and malaria plague India’s commercial capital

Planners in India’s financial and commercial capital never tire of making claims that the metropolis is — or will soon become — one of the world’s major financial hotspots, rivalling London, Singapore and Hong Kong.


Nithin Belle

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Published: Sun 24 Apr 2011, 9:15 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 7:56 PM

But the reality is something quite different. Forget the inefficient functioning of the services sector, local authorities in Mumbai cannot even ensure the safety of its citizens’ health. Public health services are pathetic and millions of residents fall victim to a range of diseases every year, and thousands die of complications.

Last week, it emerged that Mumbai has won another dubious distinction — that of being the malaria capital of the state (and soon of India’s,if present trends continue). Mumbai recorded 80,000 cases of malaria between April 2010 and March 2011, accounting for more than half of the state’s 138,000 malaria cases last year.

Maharashtra now ranks fourth in terms of malaria cases, just after the three most-backward states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. And within the state, Mumbai tops the list, followed by Gadchiroli, one of the most backward parts of Maharashtra.

Malaria cases have jumped from a little over 27,000 in 2008-09 to 80,000 last year in Mumbai. Even in terms of deaths, 129 malaria patients died in Mumbai (out of a total of 190 in Maharashtra). And the state saw the second-highest number of malaria deaths after Orissa (214).

So what are the reasons for India’s most modern and sophisticated city to get this tag of being the malaria capital? Authorities tend to blame the construction boom, passing the buck on to developers for not keeping their complexes clean. But the real reasons can be found in their own backyard.

Dispensaries run by the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) and its schools are primarily responsible for the growing number of malaria cases. According to a recent civic survey, BMC dispensaries and schools are high-risk zones for malaria and breeding grounds for mosquitoes, especially the nasty ones that pass off the disease.

Many of the buildings where these dispensaries and schools are located are in a dilapidated condition. In fact, the BMC has had to virtually abandon these structures as it endangers the lives of patients and students. Over the last two years, the civic body closed down 300 of its 1,327 schools because of crumbling buildings. Corrupt officials have been siphoning off funds meant for repairing the buildings for years, with the result that they can now only be demolished. More than 50 such buildings have been abandoned by the BMC, as it fears they may collapse during the monsoons.

But the abandoned buildings are breeding grounds for mosquitoes, especially in suburbs such as Kurla, Ghatkopar, Mulund, Andheri and Goregaon.

Other public bodies are not far behind. The Bombay Port Trust (BPT), the Public Works Department, the railways, state-owned National Textile Corporation and even the defence ministry are major contributors to the rapid rise of malaria. Bad maintenance of buildings owned by these bodies contributes to 55 per cent of the malaria cases in Mumbai, a BMC survey reveals.

There were more than 135 dilapidated – and abandoned – buildings owned by these bodies that have become breeding grounds for the anopheles mosquitoes that cause malaria. Likewise, these public bodies last year failed to clear more than 12,000 over-head tanks, roofs and other spots that are susceptible to water collection, leading to the spread of the disease.

Of course, one does not need a BMC survey to indict these bodies. Just visiting any of the government buildings in Mumbai indicates how shabbily they are maintained.

And it is not even for lack of funds that they are in such a pitiable state. There is enough money going around for cleaning up their premises; sadly, much of the maintenance funds are siphoned off by greedy officials in league with contractors.

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