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‘Rather than spending money on constructing mandirs, masjids, we need to focus on health infra’: Kishori Pednekar

Kishori Pednekar, the 77th Mayor of Mumbai speaks to Laxman Singh about BMC's response to the pandemic, BJP's allegations of corruption and the poor preparation for monsoon by Asia's richest civic corporation.




Kishori Pednekar, the 77th Mayor of Mumbai and a three-term Shiv Sena corporator from Lower Parel, has been at the forefront of BMC’s fight against Covid-19. Before entering politics, she was nurse at JNPT hospital, and donned the white uniform again to motivate paramedic staffers who were reluctant to report for Covid duty. Pednekar (57) had gone into self-quarantine twice after coming into contact with the infected.

How do you see Mumbai’s fight against Covid-19 ?

Despite all the challenges and complex issues, Mumbai has succeeded in tackling Covid-19. We took steps in the right direction as the situation developed. When the virus struck the city, we had very little knowledge on how to fight it. Even before Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally announced a lockdown, Chief Minister Uddhav (Thackeray) ji imposed a lockdown in the state. However, the virus started spreading through international travellers. For a city like Mumbai with 1.25 crore population, most living in high density and extremely unhygienic slums, Covid-19 was going to be a challenge. Things started changing after the ‘4T’ campaign (tracing, testing, treatment, tracking) was implemented. All hotspots like Worli Koliwada and Dharavi have shown improvement. We are now focusing on reducing the number of deaths.

The pandemic has exposed the city’s poor health infrastructure. What is BMC doing to upgrade it?

This pandemic has taught us a very important lesson. Rather than spending money on constructing mandirs, masjids, churches and gurdwaras, we need to focus on health infrastructure – like constructing hospitals and nursing homes. Religious places are important but now health should be given more importance.

Do you think BMC failed to take timely steps to prevent the worst times faced by the city in April and May?

There was a shortage of oxygen and ICU beds. In many cases, patients reached hospital late when their condition had deteriorated. What can be done in such cases? I agree that the team from the central government was not happy with the condition of the city then. As per requirement, we started setting up jumbo Covid care facilities with oxygen and ICU beds. Steadily, the situation improved. Even WHO has praised the city’s efforts, including the Dharavi model. We are not foolproof but we promptly took steps as per need.

Despite you being in the high-risk category (above 55 years), you visited Covid-19 hospitals and quarantine centres where residents complained about poor facilities.

There are two things – one, I am spiritual. Nobody knows when he or she is going to die. If I am supposed to die due to Covid-19, it will happen. Second, as a first citizen of the city, it is my job to understand people’s problems. I have visited almost all hospitals, even visited ICUs wearing PPEs. Now, I understand the problems faced by civic staff and patients. I visited Hindmata during flooding in the recent rains. I was there only about 20 to 25 minutes, but what about our employees who are standing in floods for over 10 hours ? This post has glamour and prestige, so it is my responsibility to hold it in high regard.

What was the idea behind wearing a nurse’s uniform ?

Before entering politics, I was a nurse for many years at JNPT hospital. I wanted to use that experience to help. It helped me understand things better this pandemic. I worked for two days at Nair hospital and discontinued after the government stated that those aged above 55 years should not be put on Covid-19 duty. But I am still ready to work in any hospital if required and don’t want any remuneration. I want to serve my people and don’t want my skills to go waste.

Many corporators have complained that BMC has not taken public representatives into confidence before taking decisions?

This is not true. We have taken all corporators into confidence. The administration has done its best and corporators have also done their bit locally. But I have written to the state government demanding that at least a mayor should be given special powers pertaining finances during a pandemic.

Despite spending crores on nullah cleaning and constructing pumping stations, the city still gets flooded. What do you have to say as Shiv Sena has been in power in BMC for over 15 years?

Many parts of Mumbai lie below the sea level. In these low-lying areas, flooding will happen as most parts of the city was reclaimed in the past. During high tide, rainwater from drains is not discharged into the sea and it starts flowing back. Steps taken over the years, such as BRIMSTOWAD, have worked because of which water recedes faster, within hours rather than days. I am not denying that we are facing problems but there is improvement with works done for strengthening of drains. We will further improve the drainage system. Now, rainfall pattern has also changed, heavy rains are occurring within a short span of time.

BJP has alleged corruption in purchases related to Covid-19 work and mismanagement.

If they feel there is corruption, they should show us. Authorities work under guidelines. Whoever is guilty should face the burnt. But amid a pandemic, the administration has the right to use funds how it seems fit. Now, it has brought the situation under control. We purchased several items about which we did not have much knowledge. It may have happened that the corporation paid on the slightly higher side. But that is not corruption. There was a shortage of PPEs, and we had to buy at whatever rates were prevailing. We have a team of nine doctors who take decisions on purchase of these items. Also, we live in a democracy and everybody has the right to give his or her opinion. We are doing our best. People will decide if we have done well or not. We are not worried about elections but the focus is how to protect people. Let them say what they want. I don’t bother.

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