Sixty-seven of the 1,000 babies born here die before they turn one. This figure is higher than those in Algeria, Botswana, Nigeria and Bangladesh, says the Human Development report of 2011.
On an average, people here don’t survive beyond 40 years. Mumbai’s average age of death is 52.
At least 50% of the babies born in the slums are delivered at home, with little or no medical assistance.
These statistics are not from a far-flung, backward part of the state, but from the heart of Mumbai – the M-east ward — the poorest, and probably, the most neglected civic ward in the city.
While the rest of Mumbai grapples with traffic jams and poor urban planning, slum-dwellers from Govandi, Mankhurd, Shivaji Nagar and Deonar struggle for basic needs and amenities.
With the worst human development indices in the city and one of the highest number of slums, the M-east ward, also the most preferred site for relief and rehabilitation projects, is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with urban planning. The majority of the population here lives in slums, and their biggest problem is water supply, or rather the lack of it. A large number of the slums have been built after 1995, and the state policy doesn’t allow the BMC to provide even basic civic services to them. Locals complain this has created a water mafia in the ward. Most slum-dwellers here have to spend Rs 30 to Rs 40 every day to buy water from private suppliers.
The other big issue for residents is the presence of the city’s biggest dumping ground at Deonar. The stench is unbearable, and an incinerator at the dump spews fumes as it burns the city’s bio-medical waste. Residents and activists believe the ward has got a raw deal. Leena Joshi, project director of the M-east ward project, Tata Institute of Social Sciences thinks the fact that the city’s biggest dumping ground is located in this ward is cruel irony. “The way policymakers have treated this ward, it’s become nothing less than a dumping ground of people, especially the poor. In that case, it’s only fair they also have a garbage dumping ground here,” she said. The TISS project will conduct a five-year-programme, deploying 1,500 of its students and faculty, to create a “holistic urban development blueprint” for the ward.
Even the middle-class in residential complexes face the brunt of civic apathy. Only 37% of M-east has a sewage network, which is the least in the city, according to a 2009 report. “Most residential buildings have private lines because there are hardly any sewage lines that the BMC has laid in this ward. It is shameful that there is no little or no sewage collection and disposal in an entire ward,” said Rajkumar Sharma, AGNI coordinator for the ward.
Devidas Borse, corporator and ward committee chairman, admits the area has been sorely neglected. “We have always been protesting about the neglect, but civic officials have refused to take remedial measures,” he said.
While the rest of Mumbai votes for issues relating to poor planning and over-burdened infrastructure, people from the M-east ward will once again hope their votes will help ease their daily struggle for basic amenities.