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Iqbal Singh Chahal: A Man for All Seasons

In Mumbai’s successful fight against Covid 19, a major role was played by the BMC Commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal- and for this he is being celebrated all across India. The Maharashtra civic body’s achievement has almost become a template for other beleaguered states and cities to follow. Incidentally, not too long ago the same Mr Chahal was accorded less than cordial reception at the Centre during his deputation in New Delhi. Indian Masterminds takes a look at the remarkable turnaround which Mr Chahal has achieved in Mumbai.
Indian Masterminds Stories

Not all battles are fought on the borders.

The night of April 16, 2021 was the night of reckoning for Mumbai. That particular night separated men from the boys. Because on that night, 168 Covid19 patients in India’s financial capital had come within kissing distance of death, on account of fast-depleting oxygen in the hospitals, and the city administration had come into the “war mode’’. Many heroes emerged in Mumbai after this battle with death.

One of the most notable persons among them is the Commissioner of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Mr Iqbal Singh Chahal. Having put the coronavirus on the mat, making Mumbai the first Indian metro to bring down the numbers of Covid19 cases from 11,000-plus to less than 4,000 (they have become almost negligible now) in just one month, it’s no wonder that Mr Chahal has emerged as one of the most admired bureaucrats of India. 

Incidentally, this was the same battle against Covid 19 which Delhi- the national capital- lost miserably, in the process triggering large-scale death and trauma to its citizens. The scenes of people scurrying from one hospital to another, unable to arrange oxygen cylinders, beds or live-saving medicines for their loved ones, the social media messages erupting with their cries for help, the general air of administrative apathy which hung like a pall of gloom on every nook and corner, among families rich or poor, are the things which Delhites will find it hard to erase from their collective memory.

Mumbai, in stark contrast, suffered no such ignominy. Not a single person lost his life on account of oxygen shortage or because he or she could not get a hospital bed in time. The credit for this resounding success goes in large part to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the city administration which was on fore-front of battling Covid 19.

BMC CHIEF ON THE DRIVING SEAT

Throughout Mumbai’s battle with coronavirus, Mr Chahal led his forces from the front. There was not a single let-up, not a single opportunity given to the deadly virus to overpower the people. In several media-interactions, Mr Chahal laid down the reasons for BMC’s success against Covid 19. Not the least was the unstinted support he received from the state Chief Minister Mr Udhav Thackeray in the BMC’s fight against coronavirus.

Recalling that night of April 16, Mr Iqbal said some 40 out of 168 Covid 19 patients were in critical condition when the oxygen supply to them started running out. In an operation lasting seven hours, all of them were evacuated and rushed in cardiac ambulances to the `Jumbo Covid Care’ facilities which BMC had already set up in Mumbai.

Recounted the events of that night, when they unfolded in the manner of a Hitchcockian thriller, Mr Chahal, his voice choking with emotions, said: “Eventually, all the patients were safely transferred between 1 am and 5 am. I am so happy that we could save 100 per cent of these lives.”

LESSONS LEARNT

Mr Chahal and his team members from BMC took several measures to ensure their victory in the battle against Covid 19. One of these pertained to prudent use of medical oxygen- and this was the lesson which they quickly learnt (and which Delhi did not) after the night of April 16.

 “After this incident,’’ said Mr Chahal, “the BMC went to the state task force, asking for a protocol for oxygen consumption. We took several decisions. The oxygen saturation level need not be maintained beyond 94%, high-flow nasal oxygen which is a guzzler should not be blindly used, and there should be an oxygen consumption audit — this was circulated to all 176 hospitals in the city,” he said.

Mr Chahal, who took over as the BMC Commissioner in May last, has attributed several reasons for Mumbai’s successful battle against coronavirus. Most of these go back to their efforts made during the first wave of Covi19 in the city. These include, according to him, creation of ward war rooms, dashboards for beds, banning of labs from handing over Covid test reports to positive patients , and the decision not to dismantle jumbo Covid facilities after the first wave.

AN UNPUTDOWNABLE MR CHAHAL

Incidentally, Mr Iqbal Chahal also had a stint in the Central Government, in New Delhi- but it’s not something he would recall with a relish. Because in 2016, he was effectively made to leave the Central Government, and was prematurely repatriated to his parent Maharashtra cadre three years before the end of his central deputation.

Whipsers in the corridors of power in New Delhi suggest of a “rift’’ between Mr Chahal and a powerful minister. Ah, but how soon the shoe comes in the other foot! Because back in Mumbai, Mr Chahal played the most glorious innings of his bureaucratic career. For his stellar achievement, Union Finance Minister Ms Nirmala Sitharaman awarded Mr Chahal the ‘Lokmat Maharashtrian of the Year 2021 Award’. He even got appreciation from another Union minister, Mr Hardeep Singh Puri, for “his right approach and judicious use of resources”. 

Mr Chahal is certainly not the person to sit on his laurels. Mumbai, as he put it, is now busy preparing to take on the possible third wave of Covid 19.


Indian Masterminds Stories

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