In conversation with Dr Miniya Chatterjee, Director of the Centre of Sustainability at Ajay Piramal-led Anand National University.

Q: Please share with us the plans you have submitted to the PMO as Director of the Centre of Sustainability at Ajay Piramal-led Anand National University.

A: We began working on finding solutions for Covid-19 when there were only 500 cases of Covid-19 in India. We ran a simulation of the spread of the virus in a slum in Delhi, that showed us that the virus would spread very fast in over-crowded zones. We realised that in India where 1 in 6 urban dwellers live in a slum, it is difficult to contain the corona virus via social distancing. We also assessed the availability of hospital beds and concluded in the early stages of the pandemic in India itself, that we will not have enough hospital beds to cater to Covid-19 patients. We thus created a plan where we identified vacant spaces and vacant buildings across India which could be turned into quarantine centres and temporary hospitals. The plan included floor layouts, equipment needed, vendor listings and a financing plan.  That gave incentives, to private builders without, the government spending money from its pocket, for taking over vacant spaces in India. This was the detailed plan that we submitted on 3 April to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Q: How does one engage real estate builders to jointly participate in this quest of India’s fight against Covid-19?

A:  We work with local level governments such as Municipal Corporations and District Collectors in states such as Gujarat and Maharashtra. While in Kerala and Delhi we work with the State governments. We identify vacant spaces where the Anant Covid-19 recovery facility can be set up, with the help of the government. We then bring in a private sector player to assist with funds only for the medical equipment. Our services are completely free of cost. We have also brought in Habitat for Humanity who sets up these facilities free of cost. Furthermore, my team designs and manufactures laminated cardboard furniture for the Anant Covid-19 facilities, which pushes down the costs even further. Hence leveraging such frugal innovations. Every Anant Covid-19 recovery facility is made at an extremely low cost. We have made 4 Anant Covid-19 recovery facilities in Kerala and Mumbai, and are currently making these in Delhi and Gujarat. In Delhi, we are working with the state government’s cell that is responsible for all Covid-19 preparations. We have worked with them to identify banquet halls.

Q: Some of the sustainable solutions you have been working on for solving the problem in the space solution sector?

A:  All the beds and furniture are made of cardboard. It is designed by my team and manufactured at the University; hence it works out seamless. It takes us about 5 days to convert a space into a Covid-19, treatment and quarantine facility of about 300 beds. We have also designed mobile testing facilities and oxygen ambulances in cargo autorickshaws. We are manufacturing them as well. These received funding from Godrej Industries. Thus, with the help of the Murli Deora Foundation these will be operated by BMC in Mumbai.

Q: Share with us the team of sustainability experts you have brought together under the umbrella of urban planners, built environment professionals & designers who are all associated with Piramal Anant University. What have been the responses & successes in implementation & facilitation?

A:  Everyone in my team —researchers, professors, engineers, managers—has been assigned specific tasks related to building our Covid-19 facilities. Their roles have remained uniform over every Covid-19 facility we have built. So this way, every time we build a new facility each team member knows exactly what he/she needs to do. This is my team:

Rhea Mukerji: Executive Director at Sustain Labs. She coordinates between the government and private partners to identify the right location for the Covid facility. Dhaval Monani: Director of Affordable Housing at Anant University. He designs and fabricates the laminated cardboard furniture and procures the rest of the medical equipment. Zeeshan: Senior Researcher and Professor at Anant University with a PhD in Economics from BITs Pilani. He works on MOUs, letters, permissions from the government and private partners. Gokulram: Researcher with an engineering degree. He implements payments of all items from mattresses to equipment as well as transportation. Joel: Multimedia designer who is a graduate from NID. Visualisation of our models, layout of research papers, and designing posters. Sharadbala: Ensures that the facility is adequately staffed with health workers provided by the government.

Godrej Industries: Funders for all the Mumbai Anant Covid facilities BMC/Delhi government/State Governments: Provide the space, health workers, and operate the Anant Covid facilitiesHabitat for Humanity: their team sets up the furniture and equipment on site at all locations (except Gujarat) Murli Deora Foundation: Facilitates implementation in Mumbai.

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The response to what we do has been extremely good. Every hospital we create takes about 5-6 days depending on logistics and supply chain support. We have completed 4 hospitals in 30 days.

Q: What are your expert views & perspectives in terms of 2020/2021 ahead?

A:  I don’t think any of us should be surprised if this pandemic continues till the end of the year and beyond, in India. However, the scientific community is fast tracking the research for medication and vaccine to counter the spread of the corona virus. There is a tremendous effort towards this across the globe. While we cannot predict when we will have a vaccine, what I do know is that even after a vaccine is found it will thereafter take much time to be produced at scale and distributed across India. We are not the best in distributing of resources such as money or healthcare in India. Until then we have to be patient and stay safe.