In Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, the Anant COVID-19 Recovery Centre is fortifying its pandemic preparedness. The centre — originally an empty conference hall — was transformed into a temporary hospital by a team of sustainability experts from the Anant National University (AnantU), and currently has a 20-bed capacity catering to COVID-19 patients.
Similarly, in Mumbai – which recorded a recent spike of coronavirus cases (7,600) and an extended lockdown – three quarantine centres have been set up to strengthen Maharashtra’s overburdened healthcare infrastructure.
These facilities, located in Najam Baugh (100 beds), St. Xavier’s College (250 beds) and MP Mills Compound (350 beds), were put together in a similar fashion – by converting vacant apartments and buildings into units supporting India’s COVID-19 relief work.
And all this, implemented at absolutely zero cost (besides the equipment) and within a span of just three to five days, has been possible due to the genius and innovation of Dr Miniya Chatterji, Director and Founder of the Centre of Sustainability at the Ajay Piramal-led University.
She. along with Dr Anunaya Chaubey, Provost, Anant National University, has been working tirelessly to assemble a team comprising sustainability experts, urban planners, and designers. And together, they have been successful in implementing a plan to tackle India's biggest battle right now – the scarcity of organised COVID-19 recovery spaces.
A woman on a mission
Miniya has definitely been instrumental in steering this plan. But it is not her lone efforts that have brought the vision to fruition. In this endeavour, she has had the backing of several sustainability and urban planning experts, innovators, and corporate, and government stakeholders, all of whom came together to refurbish the existing hard infrastructure – buildings that are government owned, community owned, or private – to provide COVID-19 recovery facilities with ICUs.
For instance, explains Miniya, the facility at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, as well as “our newest facility within a vacant apartment building at MP Mills Compound, is funded by Godrej as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility”.
Similarly, the one in Thiruvananthapuram was secured with the support of Anil K Antony, Co-founder of the multiparty group Parliamentarians for Innovators in India. All three facilities in Mumbai were secured with the support of former Minister of State Milind Deora.
A bunch of professionals and experts at AnantU have also played a key part.
Professor Dhaval Monani, Director of Affordable Housing at AnantU, designed and manufactured the laminated, corrugated, cardboard furniture at one-tenth of the cost of the traditional equipment. While Professor Milind Chitale designed and manufactured visors from up-cycled raw materials. And Joel Fernando of the Anant Centre for Sustainability designed and made informational posters.
“AnantU’s implementation partner Habitat for Humanity also played an important role in overseeing the efforts of contract workers on-ground for the timely and high-quality delivery of the refurbished spaces,” adds Miniya.
While these various stakeholders ensured a seamless establishment of the four recovery facilities catering to a total of 720 beds for COVID-19 patients across India, it is Miniya and her in-depth knowledge and experience in the field of sustainability that ensured a piece of well-oiled machinery capable of delivering results in a short span of time.
“Our 360-degree-approach caters to the issue at hand, prove to be beneficial for the ones who opt to give out their space and it is executed with no financial implications at this point to the government,” says the sustainability expert and Founder and CEO of Sustain Labs Paris (a sustainability incubator).
She adds, “We have even structured a PPP model that incentivises private builders to give their commercial and residential building for some kind of tax and stamp duty benefits.”
The two-state success story
So far, Miniya and her team have demonstrated effectively the yields of their approach in Kerala and Maharashtra.
“The first state where we started implementation was Kerala, but we finished our facility first in Maharashtra,” says Miniya explaining, “This was because the truck to Kerala took seven days to arrive on location. And we are making around two facilities a week.”
It is one thing to bring together the finest of brains and implement a result-oriented strategy, but to do the same amidst a nationwide lockdown is a different ballgame altogether. Just to design, manufacture, transport, and set up massive amounts of equipment every week across poses itself as a Sisyphean task. And then, there is the risk of exploitation.
“We have had to be extremely careful to stay away from those with agendas to use this crisis to gain financially or in popularity,” shares the entrepreneur, drawing from her various first-hand experiences, working in India and abroad.
A roller-coaster of experiences and excellence
In her two-decades-long career, Miniya has worked across various sectors and served multiple roles, starting right from the office of Jacques Chirac, the former President of the French Republic. There, she worked as a policy analyst for around three years.
Then from politics, she would move on to investment banking at Goldman Sachs in London, followed by a position at the Louvre Gestion in Paris, before finally taking up a prestigious role at the World Economic Forum in Geneva for a few years. There, she would be tasked with managing the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia regions for Young Global Leaders.
“There have been several important turning points in my life,” recalls Miniya, now 41-years-old, “One such was when I quit investment banking to found my own NGO and simultaneously work at the World Economic Forum in Geneva.”
It has been a roller-coaster of learning and experiences working and collaborating with prestigious global and national organisations for Miniya. And it is this journey that has (in a way) prepared her for the impending battle against a global pandemic.
“AnantU has the capacity to set up 2,500 beds a week,” shares Miniya, offering a glimpse into her next move and the upcoming phase in her COVID-19 care initiative. It involves a prototype for a contact-free, mobile COVID-19 testing and oxygen facility – all fitted inside a cargo auto-rickshaw.
“The auto-rickshaw is equipped with cutting-edge technology and necessary medical equipment to ensure accuracy and promptness in results,” says the advocate for sustainable solutions adding, “We are in talks with state governments to implement it across states and help in rapid testing.”
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)