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In Focus

Making Roads, Dumping Healthcare

At Elephanta Island, sadly, the Gram Panchayat has opted for building ‘roads’ while completely ignoring the need for basic health care for its people

Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site with an annual footfall of 2 million tourists and a new-found access to power, Elephanta Island is yet to witness the commencement of any healthcare initiative. Its 1,200 locals and the two million tourists remain at risk of life due to a shocking dearth of health-care.

The gram panchayat, on its part, keeps pooling tons of money towards the development of tourism on the island, even making roads in the village, while turning a blind eye towards the basic well-being of its residents

A Shetbunder resident proudly maintains construction work of a spanking new hospital has already been initiated by the new Sarpanch, near the Lord Shiva temple in Shetbunder village evidently lobbying for the new Sarpanch and his promises. Not that anyone else is impressed though.

Till date, no one on the island has any health insurance or access to healthcare facilities like doctors, nurses, dispensaries, clinics or hospital on the island. There isn’t even a plain medical shop anywhere on the island. This despite the Gram Panchayat merrily charging all and sundry entry fees on the island and housing a redundant First-Aid box with a few Band Aids and a strip of Crocin for emergencies.

The locals have never seen a doctor or nurse around for years and have to travel all the way to Uran or Mumbai for each and every kind of a medical requirement or emergency. The transition costs both time and money, along with the time constraint posed. The last boat for Mumbai leaves Elephanta Island at 6 pm leaving Islanders to the mercy of the elements.

In case of the serious emergencies like labour pain or heart attacks, the locals have to travel by ferry to the nearest hospital in Uran or Mumbai.

Someshwar Bhoir recalls how his daughter Sagar was born in the ferry while her mother was being transported in a ferry by sea for delivery, hence the name. A lot of people aren’t that lucky and lose their lives after a snake bites or emergencies on the island and only due to the sheer delay in procuring treatment.

With no chemists or pharmacies on the island, the locals are left with no option but to stock commonly-required medicines for ailments such as fever, cold, pain, digestive disorders, etc., at their homes on Elephanta Island.

The onset of the rains fetches new problems. Cases of heart attacks and snakebites soar and there is a simultaneous decline in transport options to nearby hospitals. During monsoon, the authorities limit sea transport to and from Mumbai due to the erratic and stormy weather. Not only do the locals lose a major chunk of tourists for more than a quarter of the year but also access to healthcare.

Every now and then, locals on the island lose elderly and fragile family members to a host of health adversities and are simply unable to find a way out of it. Moreover, there is a tendency to invest in tourism to better their lives while completely ignoring the prospect of safeguarding their own lives.

The gram panchayat, on its part, keeps pooling tons of money towards the development of tourism on the island, even making roads in the village, while turning a blind eye towards the basic well-being of its residents. Now, with the onset of power, there are abundant refrigeration facilities on the island to store beverages but none to store a basic reserve of medication that can be used in a medical emergency.

On the hospital all set to come up at Shetbunder village, locals maintain,“Jab hoga tab hoga,” exasperated with the inordinate delays in receiving healthcare, summing up the state of affairs that persist for years on end.

With inputs from DraftCraft intern Pankti Vadalia

This report has been prepared for DraftCraft International’s Flagship Initiative, The Elephanta Island Project to research, analyse and determine the rights and liabilities of Islanders, local and foreign tourists vis-a-vis the responsibility of the State towards all stakeholders and natural resources while upholding the law of the land and ensuring the protection of environment that tops the list of priorities. The initiative examines laws and policies regarding islands, sea transport, privacy, women’s rights, health, protection of the environment and rights and liabilities of tourists guaranteed to all by the State in context of the Right To Equality, Freedoms, The Right to Life and Global Conventions to which India is a signatory.