Rooftop Shanties a Big Concern, Defeating Social Distance Norms
• GS Colony, Fatasil: 19 families with 70 people
• Kumarpara: 46 people in one building
• Pubali Path, Santipur: 28 families with 84 members
As the novel coronavirus contaminates the city, fear of ‘community transmission’ has gripped Guwahatians. After the Tablighi Jamaat incident, positive cases found at Fancy Bazar has posed as a similar threat – spread of COVID-19 among the people of the same section.
After Mungru Sahani, a worker at a potato godown in Fancy Bazar, 15 people associated with him tested positive. Of these one is from GS Colony, Fatasil, one from Kumarpara, the third from Pubali Path, Santipur and a fourth one from Panbazar Railway Colony.
While sealing these areas as containment zones, Dr Achyut C Baishya, Executive Director of National Health Mission informed the media, “In the GS Colony of Fatasil, 19 families comprising 70 people lived in close proximity. In Kumarpara, 46 people resided in the same building out of which 16 members of the owners’ family occupied three floors and the rest cluttered in on the other floors. Similarly, in Pubali Path of Santipur, 84 members of 28 families lived together."
“There is almost no concept of quarantine in these places,” Baishya added.
These places or localities could be labelled as “slums-in-building” basically. Across Guwahati, there are many areas where people are mostly dependent on rental accommodation. In these localities, which are mostly in close proximity to the financial hubs of Guwahati, building owners usually construct multiple single room facilities on a single floor. The rooms are made of makeshift bamboo thatched walls, each floor like a shanty locality with common toilets and bathrooms.
Believe it or not, there are reports of more than 10 to 12 such rooms cluttered in about 2000 square feet area, with a single bathroom. Imagine two to three floors of a building turned to slums within the city.
These rooms are given out on rent ranging anywhere from Rs 1500 to Rs 3000 or more. Every room is occupied by a family of four or more, or by groups of 2 to 5 labourers.
For the daily wage earners like the rickshaw puller, cart puller, porter, construction labourers, shop workers and others of the lower section, these dwellings come at rents that are reasonable for them. For the owner, rent from multiple rooms adds up to much more than the rent that can be earned from a single flat rented out to a single middle class family. Moreover, there is very less investment.
However, these places are congested, unhygienic and often without the basic necessities like running water, proper electricity, etc.
Apart from posing as a serious threat to the health of the people residing in such places, such houses do not have any protection against fire. A small spark can burn down an entire building within minutes, leaving little space for the residents to flee. Emergency exits are not even considered a requirement by the owner; neither are fire extinguishers.
As Dr Baishya pointed out, “Around 4 to 5 people reside in one small room and about three people sleep together in a bed.”
No matter how long the lockdown is extended, social-distancing in such localities are unimaginable. Locals said, “Probably we maintain more distance when at work rather than at home.”
And to be more specific, there are many such localities in the vicinity of Fancy Bazar, as in Machkhowa, Kumarpara, Fatasil, Bhootnath, Kalapahar, Lalganesh and Santipur that have such slums amongst the well-off sections of society.
And not just shanty homes, a section of the building owners also rent out godowns without proper licenses. Concerned citizens have always raised questions on the same. At times, the district authorities and the local police are seen conducting raids in these godowns (mostly liquor godowns) but never on the residents.
Such shanties cluttered together on roof-tops and elsewhere not only add to the nuisance value of a locality but also have the potential of raising massive problems of hygiene and health that are posed by a regular slum.
This very concern that has till date been overlooked by the authorities, is now staring as a life threatening factor to the city of Guwahati.
A member of a Nagarik Committee of Kumarpara , under conditions of anonymity said, “I have repeatedly informed the police station about such rentals and illegal godowns. The residents are usually not verified. Some of these residents are involved in petty thefts and create nuisance in the nearby areas. But the authorities have not taken any action till date.”
After the three people tested positive, 208 samples have been collected even as we write this and contract tracing of others are being conducted.
Apart from the so called “building -slums,” many areas of the city also have cluttered residences in makeshift houses along the railway tracks. Given that the members of such a section can contract and spread the deadly disease, will it be possible to contain its spread without a massive damage?
This very incident can serve as an eye-opener for authorities and action should be taken against such owners and the other stakeholders.