A massive exodus from Mumbai’s Dharavi — one of the largest slums in Asia — towards native districts, particularly Tirunelveli, in southern Tamil Nadu is unfolding in the wake of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown.
For instance, more than 10,000 people from the southern part of Tirunelveli district, who settled down in Dharavi a few decades ago, are returning in a hurry after the pandemic threatens to overwhelm the sprawling slum with 7 lakh residents in an area of just over 2.10 sq km.
The reason is not far to seek. With each house measuring between 100 to 200 sq ft, it is impossible to maintain physical distancing that has become mandatory and touted as the only possible solution to check the spread of infection. With no formal transport available, they rely on personal vehicles, mostly two-wheelers, to reach their native towns in the far south.
On receiving information about the panic migration, Collector Shilpa Prabhakar Satish has deployed a testing unit and quarantine centre at Raja Puthukkudi near Gangaikondan bordering Tirunelveli-Thoothukudi district on the national highway to screen those coming from other districts and States.
“We are testing everyone coming from hotspot States,” Ms. Shilpa said. “Two persons arrived from Maharashtra on a bike on Tuesday and their blood samples were tested on the spot. Only after it showed negative and health workers advised them not to move out of their homes for at least the next two weeks were they allowed to proceed further.”
Besides police teams guarding the post and maintaining vigil along the national highways, plainclothes personnel have been posted along rural roads to intercept the migrants taking the relatively idle roads in a bid to escape scrutiny and screening.
Police have been asked by the Collector to strengthen their sources particularly in villages under Valliyoor and Nanguneri from where a sizable population migrated to Mumbai. She has also instructed them to check all vehicles returning to the district after unloading vegetables in Kerala and other places.
On Tuesday, police received information that a group of people was coming to Aavudailyaalpuram near Koodankulam in a pick-up vehicle. The patrol party intercepted the small van at Valliyoor and found 24 people huddled inside. During inquiry, it came to light that they were returning to their native district from Chennai.
All of them were taken to a government hostel near Valliyoor. They have been kept in isolation after collecting blood and throat swab samples from them.
“While police have been alerted to refresh their sources in every village of the district, the village administrative officers have also been put on alert to track new arrivals in area under their jurisdiction,” Ms. Shilpa said.