Mumbai hospital fire: Set up in 2009, VVMC doesn’t offer much in terms of infra, civic services

Earlier, VVMC was in news after nine patients died allegedly due to shortage of oxygen supply in a hospital at Nallasopara. It has also been accused of hiding the number of Covid-19 deaths.

A satellite town located about 50-km north of Mumbai, Vasai-Virar has seen rapid urbanisation due to its proximity to the financial capital, but is far behind it in terms of infrastructure and civic services.

Since its inception as Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation (VVMC), nothing much has been done to improve its health, solid waste management and storm water drain infrastructure, said activists and local leaders.

The VVMC was formed in July 2009, comprising four municipal councils and 53 villages. There are 115 electoral wards and nine administrative wards. Since its formation, Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA) headed by Vasai MLA Hitendra Thakur has been in power.

However, for more than a year now, Municipal Commissioner Gangatharan D is working as an administrator as the term of the elected corporation has ended but no elections have been held due to the pandemic.

Spread over 311 sq km, VVMC has a population of more than 25 lakh. Its health infrastructure comprises two corporation-run hospitals, one maternal and childcare centre, 21 urban primary health centres and eight out-patient departments.

According to a report from the principal accountant general of Maharashtra, in March 2019, there were 647 sanctioned posts of medical officers and other health staff — of which 270 were vacant — including medical officers, nurses and lab technicians in the area.

Earlier, VVMC was in news after nine patients died allegedly due to shortage of oxygen supply in a hospital at Nallasopara. It has also been accused of hiding the number of Covid-19 deaths. BJP leader Kirit Somaiya has filed a complaint against the corporation before the Maharashtra Human Right Commission.

Local Shiv Sena leader Milind Chavan said that despite having a year’s time to prepare itself for the second wave of Covid-19, VVMC did nothing.

“There is a severe shortage of oxygen in hospitals in Vasai-Virar but the corporation did not set up any oxygen tanks in civic hospitals. While preparing the development plan of the city, it should have taken note of its need to create infrastructure. It should have increased health facilities depending on the population,” he added.

“The health infrastructure has collapsed in this Covid-19 surge. People are not getting beds, oxygen and ambulances… Covid-19 test reports are coming after three to four days.”

VVMC has only six fire stations, well below the standard set by the Standing Fire Advisory Council – an apex body set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs for fire services based on response time, risk and population. As per norms, urban areas should have one fire station per 10 sq km.

VVMC’s first mayor and BVA leader Rajeev Patil agreed that health facilities are lacking in the city. He said, “For any major health complications, people have to visit Mumbai, as there are no big hospitals. Also, major infrastructure projects, like alternate roads
connecting Mumbai, have not been taken up for years. MMRDA has not made any investment in terms of Metro lines.”

However, Patil added: “VVMC does not have enough revenue. Since the corporation is new, we have very little source of income. Our main source of income is house tax… followed by development charges, fire cess and advertising fee. But there is no old source of revenue
like land or properties.” The VVMC administrator has presented a Rs 2000.8-crore of budget estimate for 2021-22 in March.

“In the last 10 years, we have improved many things. There was a shortage of drinking water. Now, things have changed and even the sewerage network is being laid. We had planned to construct a big hospital, but somehow it did not take off,” Patil said.

VVMC, meanwhile, is recording a high number of Covid-19 cases. On Friday, 1,007 new cases and 16 deaths were recorded. So far, 49,189 cases have been reported with over 850 deaths. The positivity rate has crossed 25 per cent recently.

There are 40 crematoriums, including those in villages. While there is no electric pyre in crematoriums, Nalasopara has one gas pyre but that too malfunctions at times.

VVMC Commissioner Gangatharan D said, “Now that lockdown has been imposed, we are hoping that the number of cases will come down. It is not about whether the members of the body are elected or not. The administration is providing medical facilities. We are consulting former mayors and former elected representatives.”

Asked about upgradation and improvement of facilities, he said, “Regular decisions are taken to improve facilities. It is based on need. The corporation is making efforts to increase the number of hospitals and other health facilities.”

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