Kerala and Karnataka reach agreement to end border blockade near Mangaluru

Published : April 07, 2020 20:48 IST

A view of the Talapady check post on NH 66 on the Karnataka-Kerala border near Mangaluru, which had been blockaded.The two States have since agreed to facilitate movement of vehicles to hospitals in Mangaluru and Dakshina Kannada from Kerala for medical emergencies. Photo: Anil Kumar Sastry

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s direction, what appeared to be a serious inter-State dispute between Kerala and Karnataka in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak was resolved on Tuesday with officials of both States consenting to the arrangement proposed by the Centre.

The dispute arose with Karnataka blocking its border with Kerala near Mangaluru apprehending that coronavirus-infected persons from Kasaragod district in Kerala would enter the State and spread the epidemic. The Kerala High Court had directed the Centre to lift the blockade as it denied people access to health services, besides affecting the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of movement.

The Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde and Justice L. Nageswara Rao, while hearing Karnataka’s appeal against the High Court’s order, proposed a meeting of officials of the two States to be convened by the Centre.

Accordingly, the Union Home Secretary was informed that in a joint video conference of the Chief Secretaries of Kerala and Karnataka, the two States agreed to a protocol facilitating the free movement of patients at the inter-State border at Talapadi. Making a note of this agreement, the bench disposed of Karnataka’s appeal.

According to the protocol, patients from Kerala will be subject to medical examination by a medical team at the Talapadi check post on the Karnataka border. The entry into Karnataka, according to a report, will be for patients in critical cases such as accidents, and only government ambulances will be allowed entry. Reports also suggest that there should be a medical certificate from a local doctor that the patients were not infected with COVID-19 and that no treatment for the patients was available in Kasaragod or Kannur districts. The Supreme Court’s order, uploaded on its website, is silent on the details of the protocol.

From Talapady, Mangaluru town is at a distance of 15 kilometres.

Karnataka’s denial of entry to COVID-19 patients from Kerala is unlikely to cause any friction as Kerala submitted to the Supreme Court that its Health Department was catering to COVID 19 patients in an excellent manner.

Kerala claimed before the Supreme Court that many people in the northern part of Kasaragod district depended on hospitals and medical facilities available in Mangaluru and Sullya in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, the nearest towns, for their health care needs.

Kerala also mentioned that it depends heavily on Karnataka for supply of essential goods through roads between Karnataka and Kasaragod. Kerala did not find the alternative routes suggested by Karnataka feasible for the movement of essential goods. In the wake of nation-wide lockdown announced by the Centre, only movement of people, and not essential goods, was sought to be restricted. Hopefully, the agreed protocol between the States will also remove the restrictions on movement of essential goods.

Out of the 17 border entries to Karnataka from Kasaragod district, five main entries were open to the public and the rest were closed with barricades to regulate traffic as part of the lockdown. Karnataka chose to close the five roads too by dumping soil so as to block all vehicular entry, including ambulances from Kasaragod. The blockade resulted in the death of eight residents of Kerala for want of timely medical assistance. Karnataka restricted inter-state movement of even patients under the Karnataka Epidemic Act. Kerala rightly pointed out that domicile considerations or residence in a State cannot, in any manner, be stated to be a criterion for providing treatment in hospitals situated in a particular State.

The dispute, though resolved, is a pointer to how the Centre’s lockdown, announced without planning and consultation with the state Governments, could lead to sudden eruption of disputes between States during a crisis.