Bengaluru: The governments of Karnataka and Kerala are at loggerheads again, even during the coronavirus emergency. The two states had had a political tug of war when the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests were taking place across the country, and now, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking his intervention against Karnataka’s “partisan interests in the time of crisis”.
Karnataka is ruled by the BJP, with B.S. Yediyurappa as its chief minister.
The trigger for Vijayan’s letter to the PM is the death of a 70-year-old woman, Fathima, as the police at the Kerala-Karnataka border did not allow the ambulance carrying her to pass.
Fathima, a resident of Bantwal in Karnataka, had gone to Kerala’s Kasargod to visit her granddaughter two weeks ago, and developed breathing difficulties, due to which she was being rushed to the nearest hospital, in Mangaluru. The video showing the ambulance driver Aslam Kunjathur reaching Thalapaddy gate and being asked to return has gone viral.
#IndiaUnderLockdown: Ambulance carrying a 70-year-old woman from #Kerala's #Kasargod was stopped in #Mangaluru. The family alleges the woman passed away as the ambulance was now allowed to pass through. pic.twitter.com/GgGkjKsZMj
— NEWS9 (@NEWS9TWEETS) March 29, 2020
“I pleaded with the police that I have a pass. I also told them that the patient was serious and they could take a look inside. They plainly told me they do not want patients from Kerala,” Aslam told ThePrint.
In his letter to the PM, Vijayan quotes Karnataka officials as saying there have been several cases of Covid-19 in Kerala, and in Kasargod, “nearly 7,000” are under home quarantine.
“Kerala has identified 176 cases of Covid-19 as on 28/3/2020, of which majority are from these bordering district (Kasargod). Further 7,000 persons are reported to the quarantined in these districts. Any opening of this route will lead to possibilities of this virulent infection reaching Kodagu district (sic),” the letter quotes Karnataka officials as saying.
The Kerala CM says this is “totally contrary to the facts and ground realities”.
“The incidence of Covid-19 cases is mainly noticed in people returning from abroad. Government of Kerala has taken effective measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 to social contacts. We have put our machinery in full swing,” Vijayan states.
“It is totally incorrect to portray certain districts has been highly affected by Covid-19… A large number of people have been kept in isolation and observation as precautionary measure,” he says.
Vijayan further alleges that Karnataka officials are not allowing people to cross over even during medical emergencies as it may lead to a further spread of the infection if they open the borders to allow people to pass.
Kasargod MLA N.A. Nellikkunnu also spoke about the medical emergency aspect.
“We have several patients who are under dialysis in Kasargod and need to travel to Mangaluru for their treatment. There are patients who are undergoing chemotherapy and the closest hospital is Mangaluru for us. The situation is getting worse and we appeal to the Karnataka government and Modi to please allow people at least for medical emergencies,” he told ThePrint.
“We are not saying allow every Keralite into Karnataka; just the ones who need medical help.”
Response from the Centre & Karnataka
Speaking to ThePrint, D.V. Sadananda Gowda, the Union minister for chemicals and fertilisers and former Karnataka CM, said the roads between the states were open for emergencies. He said he had intervened on the issue and there had been negotiations between the chief secretaries of both states.
“I have spoken to the district collector of Kasargod and I am told there are no issues at the border. Things are moving smoothly,” Gowda said.
However, Kasargod Collector Sajith Babu told ThePrint that “only essential services are being allowed through NH66”.
“We have 17 roads that connect Kerala and Karnataka, but only one is open for now and that too only essential services are being allowed,” Babu said.
“During this crisis, Kerala had opened five roads between the states, but Karnataka has closed four of them. Only one, NH66, is open. Ambulances are not being allowed,” he said.
Although there has been no official response from Karnataka, members of the ruling party say the borders will continue to remain sealed.
V. Sunil Kumar, MLA from Karkala in Karnataka, one of the border constituencies between the two states, told ThePrint: “We cannot allow the spread of the disease, which is at the stage of community transmission right now. What Pinarayi Vijayan has written to Modi, we request the PM not to accept it.
“By opening the borders, if it could help reduce or curb coronavirus, we would certainly do so. But at this time, if we do it, it will only spread the infection and ww should be careful. Karnataka will at no cost open the borders,” he said.
Vijayan’s letter has taken the confrontation between the states a notch higher.
During the anti-CAA protests, riots rocked Mangaluru on 19 December, and two people were killed in police firing. Karnataka’s Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai alleged that people from Kerala had indulged in violence in Mangaluru.
“People who had come from Kerala to participate in the protest also tried to set fire to a police station in Mangaluru and damaged public property. To control the mob, police had to use force,” Bommai told reporters soon after the incident.
The Mangaluru Police’s investigation into the violence also pointed to the role of Muslim outfits operating in Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and other states. Two persons — Abubakar Siddique and Moideen Hamiz — have been arrested, and notices issued to 30 others, including members of the Popular Front of India and the Social Democratic Party of India members, in connection with the violence.