A bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta, which took up the plea for hearing through video conferencing asked the Chief Secretaries of Kerala and Karnataka to hold discussions with Union Health Secretary for amicable settlement of the issue and decide on parameters to be maintained in case of health emergencies.
The top court told the Kerala government not to precipitate the issue of opening of borders till the matter was further heard.
It observed that in the present scenario, there cannot be an indiscriminate opening of borders. Karnataka's advocate general Prabhuling Navadgi, who appeared for the state, said that the order of Kerala High Court passed on 1 April, was without any jurisdiction.
The apex court also separately heard a writ petition by Kasaragod MP Rajmohan Unnithan for an order to forthwith open the state border, The Hindu reported.
Unnithan, represented by advocates Haris Beeran and Pallavi Pratap, urged the court to issue an ex-parte stay on the operation of the blockade imposed by Karnataka with its border states, saying the blockade is said Karnataka’s blockade is “ill-planned and dangerous” and had led to the loss of life, as per the report.
The Karnataka government's plea filed by advocate Shubhranshu Padhi said, "The issue involved in the present SLP (special leave petition) is with regard to the closure of a road between the state of Karnataka and State of Kerala in order to combat the spread of the pandemic COVID-19...from the bordering Districts of the States."
The plea said that the order of the Kerala High Court has been passed wholly without any jurisdiction and is thus liable to be set aside.
The high court had on 1 April gave the order on a PIL seeking directions for the opening of the roads connecting Kasaragod in Kerala and Mangaluru in Karnataka, which had been closed by Karnataka in view of the lockdown to check the COVID-19 outbreak.
"The said direction has been passed despite the earlier observations in the same Impugned Order that the High Court had no territorial jurisdiction to issue any direction to the State of Karnataka to remove any impediments which are located in the State of Karnataka. On the face of it, the Impugned Order has been passed wholly without any jurisdiction and is thus liable to be set aside on this ground alone,” the plea said.
The state government said that Karnataka has locked down its borders in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 except for the movement of essential commodities. “The state of Karnataka had specifically closed the Makutta Check post on the Mysore-Virajepat-Kannur highway. However, the high court vide the Impugned Order has directed Central Government to intervene and remove the closure on the said road,” it said.
The plea said that the order passed by Karnataka is based on adequate material as the existing facilities in the Mangalore district would not support patients from outside the state and there was every possibility of a serious outbreak of COVID-19 in the border districts of Karnataka if free ingress and outgress of patients are allowed.
"...we feel compelled to issue directions to the Central Government today because we are of the view that any further delay could entail the loss of precious lives of our citizens", the court had said in its order delivered on Wednesday night after a detailed hearing earlier in the day.
The order came amid reports of deaths of at least seven seriously ill persons after the ambulances carrying them to hospitals in Mangaluru, 15 kilometres from Kasaragod, were allegedly not allowed through by the Karnataka police on the borders.
The court had said the national highways come under the administrative jurisdiction of the Central Government and that the provisions of the National Highways Act clearly provide for the maintenance of such highways by it.
The Act even provides for penal measures to be taken against anyone blocking such a highway, it said. The arterial roads that connect Mangaluru in Karnataka, to Kasaragod in Kerala were 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, the court had said.