Covid-19: K’taka Kerala border closure dispute reaches SC

The Kerala High Court initiated mediation failed, and now the apex court has arranged for a similar mediation between the two states, after Karnataka closed it borders

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There seems to be no end to the Karnataka Kerala border scuffle as Supreme Court has today asked the Centre to intervene and mediate the dispute. The apex court asked both the states to not precipitate the matter any further given the health crisis in the country. It all started when on March 21 Karnataka shut its borders with Kerala as 6 cases of COVID19 turned up in Kasargod which is a district in Kerala very close to the Karnataka border. Karnataka government is firm on its stand of protecting the interests of the people of its state while Kerala insists that this amounts to infringement of fundamental rights of people of its state.

The Kerala High Court stand

The matter reached the courts when the Kerala High Court Advocates Association approached the Kerala High Court seeking direction for opening of the inter state roads between both states. During the hearing which was held via video conferencing, the petitioners contended that  the road blockade had disrupted supplies of essential goods and services to Kerala. They also pointed out how two patients from Kerala died as ambulances going to Mangaluru could not pass. Mangaluru is the preferred destination for health care for the border district of Kerala due to its proximity and good healthcare facilities.

After hearing both parties, a division bench of the Kerala High Court comprising Justice AK Jayasankaran Nambiar and Justice Shaji P Chali, on April 1, directed the union government to remove the border blockade imposed by Karnataka to allow patients from Kerala to enter Karnataka to access emergency healthcare services. The onus was shifted to the Union Government since the roads that connect Mangaluru to Kasargod are part of National Highway network. The Kerala High Court had held that blocking of the road resulted in denial of access to health care services which amounted to infringement of Article 21 (right to life) as well as freedom of movement as enumerated under Article 19(1)(d) of the Indian Constitution.

The Karnataka government had contended that the Kerala High Court has no jurisdiction in this matter as the cause of action had arisen in Karnataka but the high court rejected this stand and held that since India is a Union of States, Karnataka cannot disregard the fundamental rights of people belonging to another state. Live Law reported that the court also observed that when a High Court of a state in the Union of India finds and declares the actions of the executive government of another state to be illegal and unconstitutional, the said state government would be obliged under the Constitution to defer to the said declaration of law by a constitutional court of this country, notwithstanding that the said court is situated beyond the territorial limits of the said state.

This order of the Kerala High Court came in after the mediation attempt by the Ministry of Home Affairs between Chief Secretaries of both the states failed to yield any result.

Two petitions in the Supreme Court

Soon thereafter, Karnataka government filed a special leave petition before the Supreme Court stating that it had sealed its borders to combat the spread of COVID19. The petition also said that if the blockade is opened now, it would create a law and order situation in the state as local population wants to keep the border sealed.

Simultaneously, Kerala MP, Rajmohan Unnithan, also filed a writ petition in the court seeking directions to the Karnataka government to open the border. Unnithan’s petition states that Karnataka’s border blockade was ill planned and dangerous as it led to the death of two patients from Kasargod when their ambulances were not allowed to enter Mangaluru.

Supreme Court’s stand

A bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta has asked Union Health Secretary to intervene and mediate between the Chief Secretaries of the two states. The bench issued notices in the both the cases, the appeal of Karnataka government as well as the writ petition filed by Kerala MP.

The next hearing is scheduled for April 7 and the bench has urged both states to not precipitate the matter any further and instead reach an amicable settlement. 

This seems to be another attempt by the court to get the parties to settle the matter amicably. While the Ministry of Home Affairs had no luck in mediating, this time a different mediator, the Union Health Secretary is expected to bring both parties on the same page and settle the dispute.

Meanwhile, even Tamil Nadu had closed its borders with Kerala, including other states, but the dispute somehow only lies with these two states so far.


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