Coronavirus Chaos: Karnataka And Kerala Battling It Out In Court Over Border Closure
Kerala High Court has ordered the Centre to intervene and ask Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka to open its borders to facilitate treatment of ‘emergency’ patients from Covid hotspot Kasaragod in Kerala.
Karnataka has now decided to approach the Supreme Court.
The Kerala High Court has asked the central government to direct Karnataka to remove the blockade erected at the inter-state border in Talapady to facilitate emergency medical treatment of Kasaragod residents in Mangaluru.
The court’s demand comes even as Kasaragod continues to stay among the top three districts affected by coronavirus in the country for almost a week now and is the epicentre of the disease in Kerala.
Hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the Kerala High Court Advocates Association seeking directions for opening the inter-state roads, the High Court said that the action of blocking access to medical facilities amounted to an infringement of right to life, under Article 21 and right to freedom of movement under Article 19(1)(D) of the Indian Constitution.
The court reiterated that it had to pass the order “taking note of the human lives that are at stake". However, Karnataka is planning to approach the Supreme Court to challenge the Kerala High Court order.
But isn’t that precisely the bone of contention here? Whose lives are more important? Is Dakshina Kannada erring by choosing to save the lives of its citizens in this hour of pandemic? Is it violating the fundamental rights of citizens in a neighbouring district of a neighbouring state by assuring its own citizens the very right to life.
The IMA Mangalore Chapter on its part is defending the decision taken by the district administration saying, “isolation is the foremost response when the question is over an outbreak hotspot”. As for medical emergencies, the district hospitals have been open to contributing resources.
Given that some of the biggest multi-specialty hospitals and chains of medical institutions on the Karnataka side of the border are owned by individuals who also originally hail from the neighbouring district in question, facilitating resource sharing is not a problem at all.
Yenepoya Hospital, whose founder also hails from Kasaragod, has pitched in to address the concerns of dialysis patients, whose numbers are being used to make a case for the opening of the borders among others.
The hospital dispatched five of its dialysis kits to KIMS Sunrise Hospital in Kasaragod, and five of its staff who hail from the district have also volunteered to help facilitate the treatment. But using stray cases of medical emergencies and demanding that borders be opened is not something the district is willing to accept.
At present, the Centre is yet to respond. The petition by the Kasaragod Member of Parliament is yet to be listed for discussion. People in the district of Karnataka have been mounting pressure on the authorities to not give in and open the borders.
A Twitter campaign was also seen trending with the hashtag #SaveKarnataka asking why Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who once mocked Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and "asked him to visit Kerala to learn how to run hospitals", was now asking the court to order Karnataka to open its hospital doors for patients from Kerala.
“While the crisis in Kasaragod is genuine, the remedy being demanded in the courts will be disastrous. A legal remedy for a healthcare crisis will surely turn out to be a recipe for disaster,” said a senior doctor from Yenepoya Hospital on condition of anonymity.
The disaster that Kasaragod is sitting on right now could have been avoided if only the citizens followed lockdown instructions.
The first case in the city which turned out to be a nightmare for both districts and made headlines across the country is the ideal case to note in this regard. Ameer B’s “right to move freely throughout the territory of Indian” that is guaranteed by Article 19 had led to almost 3,000 people having come into contact with him.
Ameer returned from the Gulf to Kerala and tested positive for the virus on 20 March. If only his ‘freedom of movement’ was restricted in the interest of not just public order but also in view of the pandemic in the state and risk to the lives of thousands, this situation could have been avoided.
But these are not one off cases. Repeatedly there have been reports of flouting of norms by quarantined patients in the Kerala. There have also been reports of locals beating up officials of the health department and police officers who went to their rescue.
It was only late last week that Kasaragod got a testing lab. Videos of the pitiable state of the isolation ward at the Kasaragod General Hospital that went viral (tweet below) are a testimony to the conditions of the state health machinery.
A state government is empowered to deal with matters pertaining to public order and health as well as to legislate (along with the Centre — as it’s a concurrent list issue). This includes matters related to prevention of infectious or contagious disease spreading from one state to another. Given these reasons, Karnataka can stand by the decision with regard to this district in view of the larger disaster that may unfold if matters are not kept under check.
A joint meeting of Medical Specialty Associations under the aegis of IMA Mangaluru had clarified to the district administration that containment of geographical areas within the district as well as controlling movement of patients, public and healthcare personnel from Kasaragod, in order to prevent ‘explosive viral transmission’ like it happened in case 31 of South Korea who ‘infected more than 4800 patients and resulted in the death of 29’.
The Karnataka Epidemic Diseases, Covid-19 regulations 2020 that was issued on 11 March empowers district administrations to implement among others — sealing of the geographical area , barring entry and exit of the population from the containment area, banning vehicular movement in the area — if cases of COVID-19 are reported from a defined geographic area such as village, town, city, ward, colony, settlement etc. in order to prevent the spread of the disease.
It is a catch 22 situation. The focus is on how to ‘arrest the crisis’ before one makes choice about whose life to save.
For the best of nations and the most resourceful have had to take a utilitarian approach, as harsh as it sounds, when they couldn’t provide for the cases at hand.
All that Dakshina Kannada is seeking is the right to save the lives of its own, and asking Kasaragod to do the same.
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