Located near Thane border, around 15km from Borivali station, Panju Island is an estuarine creek off Vasai in Palghar district. It is barely visible when long-distance trains zoom along the Vasai bridges on the northern and southern sides, cutting the small isle into east-west wings. With 600 acres of land and 1,400 population count, huge patches of salt pans and fishing boats dot the elliptical coast. Villagers own around 100 plus boats—mainly used to fish and dredge sand. Coconut trees sway in the wind, with two small ponds for fetching water and pond fishing.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Janta Curfew call on March 22, followed by tough measures implemented by Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, the panchayat of Panju decided not to allow any outsiders in. "Guests, hawkers and workers are strictly not allowed," said Sarpanch Ashish Bhoir.
All 24-hour-long 30-odd ferry services linking Panju Island with the Naigaon mainland were suspended, barring extreme medical emergencies. Two days in a week—Wednesday and Satuday, from 9am to 11am—locals are allowed to travel by ferry to Naigaon and Vasai for purchasing essential items. Many people who commute long distances to work in Mumbai and Thane are sitting at home. Most of the youth work at Vasai municipal corporation.
Festivals and all kinds of celebration have been cancelled. "Even some weddings have been postponed. We are taking all precautions to ensure coronavirus doesn't attack our beautiful island," Sarpanch Ashish Bhoir said. Around 10 per cent of the population is poor and dependent on daily wages for survival.
Spread over 2.50 sq km, Panju Island has a school, a tiny health centre, several temples and the villagers mostly cultivate rice and vegetables. Many venture daily to work in factories, companies or private offices in Mumbai-Thane. Due to limited space and narrow lanes only two wheelers are used on the island. Those with four wheelers have to park their vehicle on the Naigaon side.
Eventhough there is not a single coronavirus positive case on the island, villagers still obeying all guidelines and rules. With a rich history going back to the day of the legendary Maratha commander General Chimaji Appa (1707-1740) fought off Portuguese aggressors from the island, Panju village is home to 21 martyrs from India's Independence struggle.