Confusion about COVID-19 management measures

 thehindu.com  05/23/2020 12:19:43 

There seems to be some confusion about the entry of migrants and other persons from Maharashtra and three other States into Karnataka.

On Monday, Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa announced in a press conference that travellers from Maharashtra, Kerala, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu would be allowed in a staggered manner.

However, this was widely perceived to be a ban on travel from these States. Some media reports also suggested the same. Officers are also behaving as if there was a prohibition on entry from Maharashtra.

Officers have sealed the inter-State border at Kuganoli on Kolhapur road. They say they are allowing only those who have a valid e- pass issued by Karnataka. However, the issue of passes has stopped. A group of 35 migrants from Hassan and Mandya who had returned from Mumbai and Pune complained that they were not issued passes even though they had uploaded documents on May 11. They were sent home after the Chief Minister issued special permits.

This is significant as the Kuganoli checkpost is the lone entry point for 20 districts of middle and south Karnataka.

Officers who are stopping migrants from Maharashtra say they are doing so based on oral instructions of senior officers. This has been mentioned thrice - once in a State-level video conferencing on Monday, and at the district officers meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. But there is neither a separate order or a guideline, a district officer said.

The CMs announcement came on Monday. But till Friday evening, there was no SOP for inter-State travel for high-risk States. Even the Friday order does not say entrants from the four States should be prohibited, said an officer, who is a member of the district COVID-19 committee.

Actually, there is no need for specific written orders to regulate the movement of travellers from Maharashtra or for that matter, any other State, as the guidelines are pretty clear, said Inspector-General of Police (Northern Range) Raghavendra Suhas. The guidelines say any person should have an e-pass issued by a deputy commissioner of the receiving State. The DC issues the passes as per the guidelines of quarantine and other rules.

He said similar rules applied to those who travel by train or flights. When one travels from other high-risk States, they would be quarantined before they are sent home. Earlier, the period of institutional quarantine was two weeks, but now it is one week with a condition that they will be quarantined at home for a week. He noted that presently there were no trains from Maharashtra, though trains between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka were operational. Flights are yet to start. We are expecting air travel SOPs any time now, he said.

Deputy Commissioner S.B. Bommanahalli said that he had not received any order to single out Maharashtra. We are allowing travellers who have passes to enter. We are issuing passes based on our capacity to absorb migrants who can be quarantined in institutions such as hotels and hostels, he said.

Officials across the State say they are carrying out these important activities based only on oral orders. This, they say, is supposedly to avoid legal challenge.

At a checkpost at the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border set up as per the standard operating procedure, officials have listed Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi and Rajasthan as high-risk States in the country. A similar poster is on the Kuganoli border checkpost in Belagavi district. But the boards dont say entry from these States is banned. Kerala, included by the Chief Minister in the list of States from which entry is barred, is not listed on them.

What is more, Delhi, which is marked a high-risk State, was not on the Chief Ministers no-entry list.

The second issue is the lack of written orders about movement of dead bodies. The Ministry of Health Affairs guidelines includes a direction to cremate bodies at the place of death. For every other MHA guideline, there is a separate order issued by the State government, that is followed by the district administration officials. But there is no order about this. We are stopping the cadaver transport at the borders and asking relatives to perform last rites at the nearest river or water body, said another officer. According to him, the spike in cases in Mandya district following the funeral of a body brought from Maharashtra led to this decision of the State not to issue orders. After the Mandya incident, the Chief Minister asked officials to prohibit movement of bodies as per the MHA directions, but no orders were issued, said another officer.

Some of the officers reason that the State fears legal challenge. I think the government has refrained from issuing orders, believing that if someone goes to the High Court and challenge them, they could be quashed, a senior officer, who is part of the State-level team that is involved in the day-to-day management of the epidemic.

Another officer from the Health Department said that lack of written orders was leading to confusion. Since Monday, we have been receiving many calls from the border districts seeking clarification about movement of migrants.

T.K. Anil Kumar, member-secretary, Karnataka disaster management authority, said the list of States from where the migrants were not allowed to enter was dynamic. It is revised everyday, following the rise in cases or related issues. That is duly communicated to officers in charge. Cremation at the place of death is as part of MHA guidelines, he said.

An email sent to the office of the Chief Secretary and chairman of the disaster management authority seeking reasons behind the decision did not elicit a response.

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