Kerala’s grievance over Karnataka sealing its border to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has highlighted the extent of restrictions that may be imposed by the government to deal with a public health emergency. 


  • The Karnataka government has blocked the state highway, preventing movement of vehicles carrying essential goods as well as those of people seeking emergency treatment at hospitals in Mangaluru, bordering Kasargod, one of the worst covid-19 affected districts of Kerala.
  • After this Kerala High Court directed the Centre to ensure free vehicular movement for those requiring urgent medical treatment on the national highway that connects Kasaragod in Kerala to Mangaluru in Karnataka.
  • This inturn induced the Karnataka Government to approach the Supreme Court which has now directed the Centre to confer with the States and formulate the norms for creating a passage at Talapadi, the border.

Reasons for Dispute:

  • Kerala’s stand:
    • Kasaragod district is suffering due to the highway closure as many here depend on medical facilities in Mangaluru for emergencies. 
    • While others rely on the inter-State movement for essential medicines to reach them. These include those battling endosulfan poisoning for many years.
  • Karnataka’s objection: 
    • Kasaragod has Kerala’s largest number of COVID 19  positive cases.  
    • It has a reasonable apprehension that allowing vehicles might result in the disease spreading to its territory. 

Extent of Restrictions during Pandemic:

  • A key question that has arisen is whether legal measures taken by the State to prevent the further spread of an epidemic can extend to a point where there is no exception even for medical needs.
  • The Kerala High Court took the view that denying emergency medical aid amounts to a violation of the right to life and liberty.
  • Further there was no jurisdictional violation as it directed the centre over an issue pertaining to national highway and not Karnataka Government over a state subject.
  • However some experts deem such a stand as ironic because Kerala recently promulgated the ‘Kerala Epidemic Diseases Ordinance, 2020’.
  • Under this it can seal its borders for any necessary period and also restrict the duration of essential services like medical facilities,fuel and food. This may make Karnataka believe that it is equally empowered to do the same. 

Way Ahead:

  • It is a moot question whether Kerala’s new law would weaken its case that its neighbour cannot shut down its border and deny medical access to its residents.
  • Interestingly, inter-State migration and quarantine are under the Union List, while the prevention of infectious diseases moving from one State to another is under the Concurrent List. 
  • This can only mean that while States have the power to impose border restrictions, the responsibility to prevent a breakdown of inter-State relations over such disputes is on the Centre.

Trade, Commerce and Intercourse within the Territory of India:

  • Article 301 of our Constitution says trade, commerce and intercourse shall be free throughout the territory of India.
  • Article 302 empowers the parliament by law to impose restrictions on trade, commerce and intercourse between states as may be required in public interest.
  • Article 303 forbids both parliament and state legislatures from passing any law which gives preference or discriminates one state over the other w.r.t any entry relating to trade and commerce in any of the 3 lists.
    • However the same can be done by Parliament to deal with a situation arising due to scarcity of goods.
  • Article 304 (a) allows states to impose any tax on  imported goods from other states provided the same amount of tax is imposed on goods produced within that state.
  • Article 304 (b) allows states to pass a law for imposing other restrictions on Freedom of Trade, Commerce and Intercourse if it is necessary to serve public interest, provided the bill has been introduced with prior assent of the President
  • Article 305 of the Indian constitution saves already formed laws and laws providing for State monopolies.
  • Article 307 empowers the Parliament by law to appoint an authority for the purposes of Article 301-304 and impose on it such duties and powers as it deems necessary. 


About Endosulfan:

  • Endosulfan is an off-patent organochlorine insecticide and acaricide that is being phased out globally. 
  • Endosulfan became a highly controversial agrichemical due to its acute toxicity, potential for bioaccumulation, and role as an endocrine disruptor. 
  • Because of its threats to human health and the environment, a global ban on the manufacture and use of endosulfan was negotiated under the Stockholm Convention in April 2011. 
  • More than 80 countries, including the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, several West African nations, the United States, Brazil, and Canada had already banned it or announced phase-outs by the time the Stockholm Convention ban was agreed upon. 
  • It is still used extensively in India, China despite laws banning it, and few other countries


Image Source: Newindianexpress