The COVID-19 pandemic is transforming lives globally. Containing the disease and managing its risks requires a radical individual and collective rethinking and reordering of space. This poses governance challenges nationally and locally to implement and sustain change, which is particularly acute within the world’s poorer urban neighbourhoods.

The COVID-19 pandemic is transforming lives globally. Containing the disease and managing its risks requires a radical individual and collective rethinking and reordering of space. This poses governance challenges nationally and locally to implement and sustain change, which is particularly acute within the world’s poorer urban neighbourhoods.

To further discuss the topic, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted a #WebPolicyTalk conducted by the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) on the topic “Managing COVID-19 in India’s Cities, Reshaping people’s everyday lives in poorer Urban neighbourhoods” under the series, The state of Cities – #CityConversations on January 20, 2022. 

The guest speaker for the talk was Dr Glyn Williams, Reader, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield. The discussants for the talk were Sameer UnhaleJoint Commissioner, Directorate of Municipal Administration, Government of Maharashtra; Prof M Vijayabaskar, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai and Prof Debolina Kundu, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), New Delhi. The talk was moderated by Dr Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, Associate Professor, Visva-Bharti, Santiniketan and Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI, New Delhi.

#CityConversations - Dr Glyn Williams - Managing COVID-19 in India's Cities Reshaping people's everyday lives in poorer urban neighbourhoods Panelists 1

Dr Glyn Williams presented and based his talk on “Managing COVID-19 in India’s Cities”. Taking three Indian cities with contrasting experiences of the crisis, the discussion examines how local management of the crisis is reshaping people’s lives and re-adjusting their relationships with the urban environment. Comparing three Indian cities with contrasting experiences of the pandemic, Ahmedabad (Gujarat), Chennai (Tamil Nadu) and Trivandrum (Kerala), provides vital insights into COVID-19’s impacts on poorer communities. It asks how is this changing lives and livelihoods that are intricately networked within dense (and often poorly serviced) neighbourhoods, and what do these cities’ contrasting experiences tell us about the motivations and capacity of the municipal state in implementing and reinterpreting national policy.

#CityConversations - Dr Glyn Williams - Managing COVID-19 in India's Cities Reshaping people's everyday lives in poorer urban neighbourhoods

Managing COVID-19 – Case of Chennai, Tamil Nadu

Among the three cities examined, Chennai saw the highest number of COVID-19 instances during the first wave. For the state of Tamil Nadu, Chennai was the epicentre of the COVID-19 instances. Because there was no elected municipal body in Chennai at the time of the epidemic, the government’s response to COVID-19 was delayed at first. Testing capacity was also inadequate. By the end of March, the city’s testing capacity had been expanded, and people had been employed and deployed to monitor and supervise each of the city’s 200 wards on a decentralised basis. By June 2020, Chennai had improved board-level coordination, assisting in the mobilisation of massive state resources for virus containment and testing.

Chennai provided a variety of social assistance programmes to its inhabitants, including the universal public distribution system, budget canteens, community kitchens, income support to family card users, and so on. In managing COVID-19, Chennai saw a solid blending of community-based relief activities (NGOs, Women SHGs, social welfare organisations) with various levels of institutional government institutions.

Managing COVID-19 – Case of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Kerala had taken several constructive efforts in the aftermath of the epidemic, including establishing a “community-based track and trace mechanism” and launching the “Break the Chain” Corona Virus awareness campaign. Kerala previously had a Nipah Virus epidemic in 2018, which aided in the management of the current pandemic. The Keralite community assisted in the tracing and tracking of infected persons, which helped to postpone the peak of the initial wave. COVID-19 instances were initially contained in Trivandrum, however, the virus persisted long after the first wave. Community transmission from coastal fishing belts happened in Trivandrum by July 2020. The state elections in Kerala, as well as the large reverse migration of workers from gulf nations to Kerala, were all highlighted as super spreader events. Kerala supported its citizens by immediate financial reliefs, an innovative online education system, online awareness campaigns etc. 

Managing COVID-19 – Case of Ahmedabad, Gujarat

According to research by Dr Glyn Williams, the state-imposed much of the COVID-19 management on residents in Ahmedabad to effectively limit the virus. In Ahmedabad, cases were routinely under-reported. During the initial wave, the Ahmedabad (Amdavad) Municipal Corporation (AMC) was more concerned with maintaining law and order than with assisting. The majority of relief efforts in the urban poor part of society were led by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local community support, and other means.

Urban Poor and Challenges during COVID-19

#CityConversations - Dr Glyn Williams - Managing COVID-19 in India's Cities Reshaping people's everyday lives in poorer urban neighbourhoods Panelists 2

Dr Debolina Kundu shared her opinion on how to deal with the COVID situation in Indian cities of varying sizes. She described how most Smart Cities’ Integrated Command and Control Centres were repurposed and transformed into COVID War Rooms to monitor the situation. She also presented the results of two research projects including telephone interviews and structured questionnaires done across 10-12 Indian cities during the first and second pandemic waves. The slum inhabitants of cities living in low-income regions were the target group of both studies. 

Prof Debolina Kundu continued by recommending that the government at all levels, including the national, state, and local levels, track health and livelihood consequences since both have been touched by the ongoing COVID situation. The fifth component of the Pradhanmantri Awas Yojna (PMAY) – Affordable Rental Housing for the Poor – needs to be strengthened to ensure that all people have access to basic facilities and housing.

Sameer Unhale added his views and discussed the acts and laws that empower the ULBs and provide the statutory framework to manage pandemics and also shared his experience in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. 

YouTube Video for #CityConversations | E41 | Dr Glyn Williams | Managing COVID-19 in India’s Cities

Acknowledgement: Utkarsh Dwivedi is a research intern at IMPRI.