SC seeks Centre’s response on PIL illuminating black marketing of medical essentials

On a consideration of the rival submissions, the court observed to have no option now, but to pass this order with a view to safeguard the fundamental rights of citizens during this grim period in our country’s history. This Court had readily agreed to the request of the learned Advocate General of Karnataka, for time to revert to this Court, with a practical solution to the problem faced by the residents in Kasargod District, in Kerala, who were prevented from travelling to Mangalore, in Karnataka, for urgent medical treatment. The said restrictions imposed by the State of Karnataka, through the blockades erected for the purpose, has resulted in the loss of many lives in the last two days. Despite the grant of time, the learned Advocate General of Karnataka has not been able to come up with any solution to the problem. The discussions between the Central Government and the two State Governments have also not produced any results. Under the circumstances, any further delay in resolving the stalemate could be catastrophic for the residents of Kasargod District in Kerala.

“The right of a citizen to move freely throughout the territory of India, subject to reasonable restrictions that may be imposed in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, public order etc. is recognised under Art.19 (1)(d) of our Constitution. A citizen also has a fundamental right to life and personal liberty guaranteed to him by the State under Art.21 of our Constitution. Both these rights are simultaneously infringed in the case of a resident of the State of Kerala when he/she is denied entry into the State of Karnataka for availing medical treatment, or is deprived of essential articles of food that are being transported into the State through blockades erected by the State of Karnataka. We cannot forget that India is a signatory to the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Art.12 of which obliges all State Parties to the Convention to recognise the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and to take steps for the creation of conditions which would assure to all, medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness. Our Courts have since read in these obligations into the guarantee assured to our citizens under Art.21 of our Constitution. Restrictions imposed on the transportation of essential articles of food would amount to a breach of the rights protected under Arts.301-304 of our Constitution.

The learned Advocate General of Karnataka vehemently reminds us that we would be exceeding our jurisdiction if we issue any direction to the State of Karnataka in this matter. We are well aware of our jurisdictional limitations and we, therefore, do not propose to issue any direction to the State of Karnataka in this matter. We might however observe 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 fundamental rights guaranteed to each Citizen of India under our Constitution, are to be zealously protected by the State, which term refers jointly to the Centre, the States and the Union Territories that together constitute the Union of India. The said Federal principle is eloquently and succinctly expressed in Art.1 of our Constitution, which states “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”. The State Government of Karnataka cannot therefore be heard to contend that it is not obliged to respect the fundamental right of a citizen who resides outside its territorial limits. So long as it is an integral part of the Union of India, the State of Karnataka has necessarily to respect, and guarantee, the fundamental rights of a citizen of this country, irrespective of the place of his residence or domicile within the country. We sincerely hope that the State Government of Karnataka will take note of the said basic principles enshrined in our Constitution and take immediate steps to resolve the present stalemate. As already mentioned above, 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. The National Highways come under the administrative jurisdiction of the Central Government and the provisions of the National Highways Act clearly provide for the maintenance of such highways by the Central Government, and even provide for penal measures to be taken against anyone blocking such a highway. The arterial roads that connect Mangalore in Karnataka, to Kasaragod in Kerala, are part of the National Highway network and it is therefore the duty of the Central Government to ensure that the said roads are kept free of blockades. 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. Directed  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. 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”.