Kasaragod equips itself after border snub
Karnataka’s decision to close roads used as medical channels appears to have spurred on the Kerala government to ramp up healthcare facilities in a district particularly affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
The Kerala government fast-tracked the completion of Kasaragod Medical College Hospital in just four days and started operating the only-such facility in the northernmost district on Monday. The government is now gearing up to build a 540-bed hospital funded by the Tata Group in less than three months. The proposal for this hospital had been green-lighted before the outbreak.
The two hospitals, which will initially be solely dedicated to coronavirus-infected patients, will compliment the 24 hospitals, most of them privately run, in Kasaragod district that has a population of 13 lakh people. Kasaragod had fast emerged as one of the Covid-19 hotspots with over 100 cases.
Kasaragod district collector D. Sajith Babu said the Tata-funded hospital would come up on a 15-acre plot in Thekkil village.
To stop the virus from spreading in Karnataka, the administration of Dakshina Kannada district had blocked all border roads, including NH66 that connects Kasaragod and Mangalore, by dumping soil in two phases from March 21.
The roads, including the highway, were extensively used by Kasaragod residents to travel to Karnataka to avail themselves of better medical facilities in the immediate vicinity in Mangalore.
The matter eventually reached the Supreme Court, which directed the two states to settle the dispute amicably. On Wednesday, the court allowed non-Covid-19 patients to use the highway after scrutiny at both ends at Kasaragod and Mangalore.
“The (Tata-funded) hospital will be built with prefab (pre-fabricated concrete) structure (for faster construction),” Sajith, the Kasaragod collector, said in a video message, adding that the construction would begin immediately and that the hospital would be up and running in “two or three months”.
“Although we have 148 Covid-19 patients, we already have 903 beds ready to take in more patients,” he said.
Being Kerala’s epicentre of Covid cases, Kasaragod is under a tight lockdown.
The collector appealed to contractors to release their excavators to level the land so that the construction could begin in a day or two.
Investors from the Gulf are making a beeline with offers to build super-specialty hospitals that would virtually end the healthcare trips to Mangalore.
Acting with a sense of urgency, the Kerala cabinet on Wednesday cleared the appointment of 273 healthcare personnel for the medical college in Kasaragod that is now being operated by medical professionals from Thiruvananthapuram.
Rajya Sabha member from Kerala, K.K. Ragesh of the CPM, described the fast-tracking of the medical college hospital as the best solution to enhance healthcare facilities in the state.
“Unlike states like Karnataka, the healthcare infrastructure in Kerala is mainly in the public sector. That’s why we are able to quickly pool resources in a crisis,” Ragesh told The Telegraph on Wednesday.
“Our chief minister (Pinarayi Vijayan) had said we needed to enhance the healthcare facilities for the worst-case scenario and not the current numbers,” he added.
Ragesh said there was nothing wrong in residents of Kasaragod depending on Mangalore for their healthcare needs. “People in border areas generally depend on neighbouring states. We treat a lot of people from Karnataka at our government hospitals in Wayanad. So it is a mutual thing,” he said.
But many believe that the Karnataka government’s move to cut off Kasaragod and also Kannur district by blocking all roads has prompted the Kerala government to treat adversity as an advantage and boost Kerala’s medical infrastructure.
For long dependent on the network of hospitals in Mangalore, the headquarters of Dakshina Kannada, the residents of Kasaragod had been left stranded at such a critical time. Eleven lives were lost as patients from Kasaragod, none of them displaying any symptoms of coronavirus infection, were not allowed to go to hospitals in Mangalore.
While Karnataka ignored a Kerala High Court order to remove the barriers, the government’s appeal to the Supreme Court against the high court directive forced the Centre to come into the picture as a mediator.
Government hospitals in Wayanad, on the other hand, have continued to welcome Covid-19 patients from border villages in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Chief minister Vijayan had said it was the state’s policy to take care of anyone who sought medical attention.
A Kasaragod district administration official told this newspaper that the idea of developing more hospitals would benefit Kasaragod in the long run.
“The medical college hospital and the Tata hospital will be eventually used as general hospitals,” said the official, who declined to be named.
But he didn’t see the patient flow to Mangalore stopping entirely. “The links between Kerala and Karnataka are very old and span culture, food habits, clothing and linguistics. While people are free to go to any hospital, the overall dependence on Kasaragod will end soon,” the official said.