Hours after Union minister Sadananda Gowda set off a controversy by landing in Bengaluru, and refusing to go into the seven-day quarantine — as mandated by the state government in Karnataka — the B.S. Yediyurappa-led government added an addendum to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), saying Union and state ministers would be exempted from the rule.
The New Minute reported quoted the addendum as saying, “The ministers of Union Government or state governments or officers on their official duty who are travelling across states will be exempted from requirements of quarantine as has been done for health professionals and others.”
Gowda, a BJP MP and the Union minister for chemicals and fertilisers, landed in Bengaluru on Monday—the day India resumed air travel after a gap of two months—and was seen exiting the airport and then getting into his car and leaving the airport while other passengers went into mandatory quarantine.
According to the SOP by the Karnataka government on May 23, all passengers of domestic flights from Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh had to go into mandatory quarantine for seven days. It said that tests would be conducted between the fifth and seventh day, The News Minute reported.
Gowda, a former chief minister of Karnataka, was the second BJP leader whose conduct led to a controversy on Monday. BJP MP and Delhi party chief Manoj Tiwari was forced to issue a clarification after a video emerged of him playing cricket on a private ground in Haryana’s Sonepat while the lockdown is still in place. Tiwari has said that he has followed all the norms in place.
Don’t rules apply to ministers?
A defiant Gowda said on Monday that he was exempt from these rules because he was a minister, and these were meant for citizens.
″...you need people to work for the control (of COVID-19) right? If you say no one should come out can you stop this? As a pharma minister I need to check production, supplies, and ensure it reaches last point, it is my responsibility,” PTI quoted him as saying.
“I come under the exemption clause and I have the exemptions...Arogya Setu App on my phone also shows I’m safe,” he said.
Gowda also claimed that he was conducting himself “in a responsible way. Modi (PM Narendra Modi) also wont spare us, if we move around according to our wish”.
The BJP government in Karnataka drew harsh criticism after the incident and the addendum to the SOP, with people wondering why a minister was being accorded special treatment at a time when Covid-19 cases have been on the rise in the country despite a lockdown in place since the last week of March.
Also, while Gowda may not be “just a citizen” he is still human and it is possible that he can contract the novel coronavirus and spread it to others.
The bigger question being raised was how an addendum was added to save face over the minister breaking rules.
Ministers in Karnataka also defended Gowda. State Minister S. Suresh Kumar, who is spokesperson for COVID-19 in Karnataka, was quoted by PTI as saying, “He (Gowda) is exempted in his capacity as a minister handling pharma sector... orders have already been issued by the central government (in this regard).”
Gowda’s actions come at a time when Prime Minister Modi has highlighted the need for “self-reliance” to control the pandemic. Modi has said that each citizen of the country had to stick to rules and cooperate with the government.
The opposition Congress criticised the BJP, saying the government did not want to be accountable to its people. “The Prime Minister doesn’t feel the need to follow the Constitution and the Union Ministers don’t feel the need to follow rules. What’s also similar is both don’t feel that they are accountable,” the Congress tweeted from its official handle.
People also took to Twitter, asking if Gowda was above the laws of this country.
People also pointed out how when the poor stepped out to buy even essentials, they were beaten up by the police, but Gowda could get away with flouting rules.