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Breaking: Kerala HC directs Centre to remove blockades on Karnataka-Kerala Border erected by State of Karnataka amid Coronavirus Lockdown

"We may re-iterate that we expect the Central Government to act expeditiously in this matter, taking note of the human lives that are at stake", the Court said.

The Kerala High Court today passed an interim order directing the Central Government to expeditiously lift blockades erected by the State of Karnataka on the Kerala-Karnataka border amid the Coronavirus lockdown.

Following its hearing today via videoconferencing, the Bench of Justices AK Jayasankaran Nambiar and Shaji P Chaly has ordered,

"We… direct the Central Government to forthwith intervene in the matter and ensure that the blockades erected by the State of Karnataka, on the National Highways connecting the said State to the State of Kerala, are removed forthwith, and without any further delay, so as to facilitate the free movement of vehicles carrying persons for urgent medical treatment, across the border between the two States."
Kerala High Court

The Court added that, "We may re-iterate that we expect the Central Government to act expeditiously in this matter, taking note of the human lives that are at stake."

The Bench reasoned that,

"No doubt, restrictions may be imposed in times of a national emergency such as the present, but when the guidelines issued by the Central Government under the Disaster Management Act itself permits travel for urgent medical treatment, then the said guidelines have necessarily to be enforced by the Central Government through the removal of the blockades that prevent such travel."

Kerala High Court

Further the Bench remarked that, "we feel compelled to issue directions to the Central Government today because we are of the view that any further delay in issuing directions could entail loss of precious lives of our citizens."

While passing the order, the Court also made it clear it was not inclined to issue any direction to the State of Karnataka in the matter. However, on a related note, the High Court 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 our 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.”

The Court went on to emphasise that the fundamental right guaranteed to every Citizen of India are to be zealously protected by the State, which jointly refers to the Centre, the States and the Union Territories that together constitute the Union of India.

On that note, the Court held that the State Government of Karnataka therefore, cannot contend that it is not obliged to respect the fundamental right of a citizen residing outside its territorial limits.

Read the Order:

KHCAA v State of Kerala and ors - Kerala HC order - April 1.pdf
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In the hearing that convened today via video conferencing, Senior Counsel P Ravindran, appearing for the petitioner had stated that the people of Kerala were not seeking any concession. He further argued that the state of Karnataka is impeding on its Constitutional obligation and Centre's guidelines. The Union of India should ideally have to step in, it was contended.

Advocate General for Karnataka Prabhuling Navadgi submitted that the plea is not maintainable before the Kerala High Court . Inter alia, AG Navadgi stated that the petitioners were relying on ‘press statements” and that they had no personal knowledge of any medically ill person being denied entry to Karnataka.

Further, it was argued that the entire bundle of facts or the cause of action only arose in the State of Karnataka. Therefore, only the Karnataka High Court or the Supreme Court would have jurisdiction in the matter, Navadgi asserted.

Adding on, he stated that “a legal right must be infringed within the territorial limits of the concerned High Court. In this case, the entire cause of action arose upon denial of entry into Karnataka”. To further buttress his argument, reliance was placed on case of Nawal Kishore Sharma vs Union Of India & Ors.

Another contention put forth was that even in the prayer sought by the petitioner, no relief against Karnataka was sought. It was stated that the petitioners themselves were conscious of the fact that the Kerala High Court would not have any jurisdiction over the state of Karnataka. Hence, no relief had been sought against the State of Karnataka, Karnataka AG argued.

Petitioners seek a direction from the UOI. If a direction is sought against a third party (Karnataka), against whom the petition is not maintainable, then also prayer (against UOI to direct Karnataka) is not maintainable

Further, Navadgi contended that both the states at this stage are not in a position to reconcile and have their differences. As some sort of a dispute exists, the appropriate forum to adjudicate the matter would be the Apex Court. In this regard, he also relied on Article 131 of the Constitution to reinforce his submission.

Further, it was argued that,

“On March 23, the Karnataka Government had banned all interstate and inter-district movement under Epidemic Diseases Act, 1857. This inter-state ban was for all neighbouring districts including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and of course Kerala. Later we came to know that there was a heavy rise of 106 COVID-19 patients in Kasaragod. which is very unfortunate. However, 20 kms away, Mangalore has only 9 cases. These restrictions (on trans-border movement) have been placed in public interest and not for any other reason. In this present scenario, if the borders are opened, there will be a huge influx of COVID-19 patients and we will not be able to manage it."

Navadgi further brought to the attention of the Court that the above arrangement is temporary in nature and the same could be reviewed once the situation improves.

On the point of violation of Central Government’s guidelines, Navadgi submitted that the Central Government Guidelines are only to be kept in mind and that the Centre had given the State sufficient leverage to take all steps necessary to prevent the spread of the infection.

However, the Bench raised a query asking whether any option under Article 21 was available to any state to choose between people who are ill and to sacrifice one life for another. The Bench further stated that the Court cannot accept any submission which treats people of Kerala and Karnataka as distinct, different citizens.

The Bench of Justices AK Jayasankaran Nambiar and Shaji P Chaly had adjourned the hearing earlier today after being informed that the Central Government was meeting with the Chief Secretaries of Kerala and Karnataka today to reach an amicable settlement.

However, later, on this point, the Court was informed by Advocate Jaishankar Nair appearing for Central Government that though a proposal had been put to Karnataka, nothing concrete has been decided yet.

The Court also stated it was not inclined to hear the impleading petitions filed by Bengaluru Bar Association at this stage.

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