Quarantine Bill, Special Train controversies dominate Kerala’s headlines on Covid-19

Thiruvananthapuram: An unsavoury controversy has erupted between the Union Railway Ministry and the Kerala Government over the running of special trains. That such controversies should flare up at a time when the battle against the corona virus is getting tougher by the day is, to say the least, unfortunate.  Not only do they divert attention from the fight against the dreaded virus they also leave a trail of bitterness.

It all began with the Railway Ministry deciding to run a special train from Mumbai to Kerala on May 24 – Nothing wrong with the move to run special trains. But there are some norms which govern the running of such trains.  First and foremost, the passengers should be registered with the Covid Jagrata Portal; and the concerned State Government should be informed in advance of the arrival of the train and details of the passengers. This is essential because the States concerned have to make adequate arrangements to receive the special trains and ensure institutional quarantine of the passengers.

In this particular case, the Kerala Government was not informed despite the Railway being told that such advance information is necessary, and that the passengers should be registered with the portal. This has obviously not been done, and when Kerala insisted on registration, the train was cancelled.

This was unfortunate enough. But even more regrettable was the uncharitable remarks Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal made against Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Goyal reportedly said that the Kerala CM was not interested in bringing back the people of his own State stranded in other parts of the country.  The CM made a dignified reply that it is for the people of Kerala to decide whether the Chief Minister is doing his job properly or not.

Incidentally, Kerala is not the only State which has had a run-in with the Railway Minister. A flaming row is raging between the Maharashtra Government and the Ministry over the special trains issue. The Minister has thought it fit to blame the plight of migrant workers solely on the Maharashtra coalition Government.  Likewise, the Ministry is at odds with the Bengal Government as well over the sensitive issue. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has opposed the running of special trains.  The Railway Ministry has not had the courtesy to inform the State Government of the decision to run special trains, Mamata alleged.

The nation can ill afford such controversies at this crucial phase in the battle against Covid-19. Those holding responsible positions should exercise utmost restraint.  Unfortunately, the tendency of politicians to play politics even in times of extreme adversity is a fact of life. And that is the tragedy of the country.

Another controversy which hit the headlines relates to the decision of the Kerala Government insisting on payment for institutional quarantine by all those who return to the state from foreign countries and other parts of the country.  It is obvious that the Pinarayi Vijayan Government has been constrained to go for the painful decision because of the serious financial crisis it is facing.  But the Kerala Government could have avoided the controversy by exploring other avenues of meeting the quarantine bill.

The issue figured prominently at the all-party meeting the CM had called. Opposition parties opposed the move vehemently; they suggested that the government should try to get sponsors to finance the quarantine; they also offered to extend their cooperation in this regard. A welcome gesture, indeed. And the Government also relented. The CM later announced that the poor Indians – many of whom have lost their jobs and have not been paid for months – who return from abroad would be charged only affordable rates for quarantine.

This is the spirit in which solutions should be found. It is nobody’s case that the Opposition should stop opposing. But the most important and the sole agenda now is the battle against corona. And this is a battle which humanity can afford to lose. Politics and controversies can wait for better days. Cooperation, not confrontation is the paramount need of the hour, the mantra for all.

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