Mumbai: Bullet train construction phase at high risk for HIV

Updated: 29 March, 2019 20:06 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav | Mumbai

Impact assessment report flags the fact that Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project will put high prevalence groups like truck drivers, commercial sex workers and others in direct contact with high vulnerability groups like the single migrant male

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

The environment impact assessment (EIA) report submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF and CC) of the much-hyped Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project is in, with an interesting point of caution.

A section of the report states there is a high risk of the spread of HIV during the construction phase as the project is expected to bring together groups with a high prevalence of HIV infection in direct contact with groups highly vulnerable to HIV infections. The report has emphasised on making provisions for the prevention of HIV transmission among workers.

The bullet train project, named Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Railway Project (MAHSR), is being projected as a crucial one as it is expected to cut down the travel time between the two cities to 2.5 hours.

The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) submitted the EIA report to MoEF and CC to get environment clearance for the project on March 14. The EIA report has emphasized on making provisions for the prevention of HIV transmission amongst the workers and for treatment of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

Backing up the concern with figures, page 102 of the report talks about HIV and AIDS with a table that gives details about the current status of HIV in Maharashtra and Gujarat based on the National AIDS Control Organisation's (NACO) HIV Estimation 2015 report.

An excerpt of the report's conclusion on the possibility of HIV spreading
An excerpt of the report's conclusion on the possibility of HIV spreading

Heavy presence

The report states, "Gujarat has one of the highest adult HIV prevalence rate in India at 0.42 per cent. It means that 0.42 per cent of the population in the age group of 15-49 years is HIV positive. The HIV estimation report does not provide an exact adult prevalence rate for Maharashtra but only says that it is higher than the national average of 0.26 per cent. The adult HIV prevalence rate is showing a declining trend in Maharashtra and is stable in Gujarat."

The paragraph  further states, "Both the states have heavy presence of PLHIVs. Of the total number of 21.1 lakh PLHIVs in India, Gujarat has 1.66 lakh, while Maharashtra has 3.01 lakh PLHIVs. Together, they constitute 22.1 per cent of total PLHIVs in India. Gujarat is one of the four states currently having highest rate of new infections. The number of new annual infections is in excess of 7,500 while the corresponding number for Maharashtra stands at 3,000-4,000."

The MAHSR alignment for Maharashtra
The MAHSR alignment for Maharashtra

Also Read: Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train: 73 Palghar residents give up their lands for basic amenities

Make provisions

Concluding the assessment, the report states, "The proposed MAHSR project shall attract large number of people during the construction and operation phase. The highest risk of HIV transmission is apprehended during the construction phase. The construction phase is expected to bring groups with high prevalence of HIV infection e.g. long-route truck drivers, commercial sex workers, etc in direct contact with groups at a high risk of vulnerability of HIV infection e.g. single migrant males. Injectable drug users and men who have sex with men are also expected to be present in large numbers."

"The project developers are advised to make provisions for the prevention of HIV transmission amongst the workers and for treatment to PLHIV's," states the conclusion with recommendations like: "Easy availability of personal protection devices like condoms and diaphragms, sustained ICE activities and counselling mechanism, regular home visit holidays,  collaboration with local police to curb the sale and use of narcotics. The project developers are also advised to act in consonance with the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act, 2014 with regards to employment, termination of employment, access to healthcare, housing, access to other facilities etc."

mid-day tried to contact Achal Khare, managing director of the National High-Speed Rail Corporation (NHSRCL), but we were unable to get through his number.  The messages sent to him also did not received any response.

MDACS says

Speaking to mid-day, Dr Srikala Acharya, additional project director of the Mumbai District AIDS Control Society said, "We have already tied up with agencies who are responsible for the construction of the Metro lines for HIV awareness among the construction workers. We sensitize them about the transmission and educated them so that they don't fall victim to the infection. Migrants are part of our target intervention projects so we always reach out to them. They also undergo HIV screening and if anyone is found infected, we also provide them treatment. So, when the construction of the bullet train would start, we would also approach the concerned authority for sensitisation."

Also Read: NRI from Germany gives up land for Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project

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First Published: 29 March, 2019 07:00 IST

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