The contrasting examples of the relations between Kerala and its two neighbours, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, during the COVID-19 pandemic, illustrate the human and economic costs of state governments refusing to work with each other, and the benefits of mutual cooperation. Kerala and Karnataka have been embroiled in a dispute since 21 March, when the latter announced that it was closing all road crossings between the states. The decision blocked access for residents from north Kerala’s Kasaragod district to visit Mangaluru, in Karnataka, where the nearest well-equipped hospital is located. The consequences were grave, leading to the death of at least ten patients who were unable to receive urgent medical attention.
The dispute between the two states also led to a complete halt to the road trade between the two states, hurting both farmers and consumers. The blocking of trade and transport between the states can also result in other far-reaching consequences, such as a food inflation due to the restrictions on free trade. Meanwhile, the cooperation between the governments of Tamil Nadu and Kerala has helped both migrant labourers, who were stuck in Kerala during the nationwide lockdown, and allowed for businesses and trade to continue functioning smoothly.
On 21 March, the Dakshina Kannada district administration of Karnataka blocked National Highway 66 at the Talapady checkpost between Mangaluru and Kasaragod in Kerala by dumping truckloads of mud on road. The state government took the decision after six patients tested positive for COVID-19 in Kasaragod, which was then declared one of the ten hotspots of the pandemic by the central government. Two dozen other entry points into Karnataka from Kerala were also closed in a similar manner. On 28 March, a terminally ill patient from Kasaragod died after her ambulance was stopped en route to a hospital in Mangaluru. On the same day Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala, wrote to the prime minister asking the central government for quick intervention to end the road blockade.