In Focus

Colaba, Pasta Lanes Mired In COVID Crisis

By Ruchi Verma

Things appear to be going completely out of hand. In Colaba itself, according to BMC statistics, in and around a single lane, Third Pasta Lane, there are five buildings which are 'sealed' in some form or the other; that is, either the floor housing an affected family home is sealed or the entire building with more cases 'sealed' to prevent human movement.

Lalchand Mansion, Vasant Vilas, Sukh Niwas - B Block, Porbandar Castle and Dena Bank Building feature among the list of sealed buildings in Colaba which houses a whopping 34 'sealed' buildings. The 'sealed' status of the buildings do not, in any way, affect the unbridled movement of people, and without masks too, in and about the zones. With the police, unable to act for, reportedly, want of personnel, the worried few are simply outnumbered and left to fend for themselves and risk a disaster waiting to happen.

PETRIFIED: Septuagenarian Dorothy Yazdegardi

It is a shame that Colaba Police Station's Senior Inspector Shivaji Phadtare contracted COVID-19, most probably and sadly on duty, and was even admitted to Seven Hills Hospital for nine days before recovering and resuming office recently. "There are no restrictions of public movement now. There is no curfew," he says, when asked about the recent surge in crowding within Colaba. "We do file complaints with regard to those not wearing masks but can't stop people moving. Also, we do not have enough manpower to tackle the issue. To patrol the Colaba Police Station zone, we have only 15 to 20 personnel and that is just not enough," maintains COVID-warrior Mr Phadtare. Incidentally, of the 200-odd police personnel working with Colaba Police Station, a shocking 25 contracted COVID-19! 

RESOLUTE: Colaba Police Station Senior Inspector Shivaji Phadtare (left) and MRA Marg Police
Station Police Inspector Shabana Shaikh

The issue here, however, isn't of movement. It is of flagrant crowding and wanton disregard for social distancing which needs to be clamped upon strictly and swiftly. But then, with residents - mostly 'outsiders' who outnumber locals living for generations together in the zone - refusing to fall in line and crowds of tourists and cyclists thronging the lanes without maintaining any semblance of social distancing or the mandatory usage of the mask, it's a free-for-all here.

Why, even MRA Marg Police Station's Police Inspector Shabana Shaikh is exasperated when asked about the issue of crowding in Colaba. "What to do? People refuse to listen even if it's for their own good," she quips. And, Ms Shaikh herself is a COVID-survivor having contracted it, most probably, sometime on duty.

"It's impossible to walk about Colaba's Pasta Lanes without encountering easily a few hundred without wearing masks or maintaining even a semblance of social distancing," says Lalchand Mansion septuagenarian resident Dorothy Yazdegardi whose floor is 'sealed' because of a COVID-positive case registered with a family. "There are so many drug addicts moving about without any fear of the law in the Pasta Lanes which house a lot of elderly people," she says. "The risks of contracting COVID in these times are high. The local police must make its presence felt in the lanes. They are known to fine people for not wearing masks but it's evidently not working. Each time, I step out, I am so worried. For some odd reason, there are huge groups of people moving about throughout the day and specially at night. It's a given that the pandemic strikes us in Colaba," maintains a visibly-worried Dorothy.

"There is absolutely no regard for public health or safety in this area. How does one keep telling watchmen to wear masks, keep distance and maintain the prerequisites of hygiene," says Sukh Niwas resident Jitendra Ramalingam. "The BMC sleuths do land up and make surprise checks on shops to fine them for failure to wear masks but it just isn't enough. A lot more needs to be done by enhanced police presence and BMC fining to help stop the rot. Very few persons wear masks in the Pasta Lanes of Colaba. Unless of course, they are moving onto the main road where they promptly don a handkerchief or an excuse of a mask just to avoid being caught," he adds.

LOCAL WOES: Sukh Niwas resident Jitendra Ramalingam (left) and Shop-owner Navin Jain

"Increasing police presence in the Pasta Lanes, ensuring BMC staff moves about incognito and fines those without masks and disregarding social distancing during the day and night, fining shop-keepers and their staff for failure to comply will go a long way in curing the spread of the virus," says shop-owner Navin Jain. "With the numbers rising by the day, it's a scary situation," says Navin.

It makes little sense for the authorities to pass the buck on staff shortage or onto each other for a pandemic whose spread can be easily controlled by care and caution. The opening up of tourism in the zone, the end of lockdown, the controlled trickle of public on the main road turning into swarms of unfettered movement of cyclists and tourists 'within' the lanes escalate the risk of COVID-19 spread. 

SYMBOLIC ORDER: The Gateway of India is free of crowding and everyone wears a mask
because of police presence...the vigil needs replication across Colaba's Pasta Lanes

Keeping the Gateway of India free of crowding and ensuring the use of masks is an easy task, considering the sea of police personnel available to man the zone. It's ensuring the lanes of Colaba stay that way, that matters. And, as they say about the proof of the pudding lying in the taste, the swiftly rising numbers of 'sealed' buildings and positive cases only underlines the fact.

(Note: Some subjects may have removed their masks only to be identified in photographs to be used with this news report. COVID-19 appropriate behaviour has been maintained at all times)