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Shifting Goal Posts For Gowda During COVID-19

How do rules change for Union ministers during COVID times?

Come to Karnataka would be one immediate response.

In a span of five days, rules have been changed twice. First, it was to facilitate a union minister from not undergoing institutional quarantine.

And, second the SOP or standing operating procedure, issued by the Centre, came in handy for the union minister to manage his “informal” home quarantine.

The union minister in question is DV Sadananda Gowda, who holds the portfolio of chemicals and fertilisers.

Sadananda Gowda arrived from Delhi in Bengaluru on Monday and straightaway headed to his official car when other passengers were still waiting to be tested for COVID-19 symptoms.

The minister claimed that he was exempted and promptly drove away in his official car for a meeting to the Vidhana Soudha. “I am heading the pharma ministry. We are responsible for providing medicines to every state. I come under exemption in the SOP – pharma is excluded at the Central and state levels,” he said.

But the May 22 SOP had made no such exemptions. On the contrary, it mandated that all those who arrive from high-risk states like New Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, had to undergo institutional quarantine for seven days. This was to be followed by seven days of home quarantine.

Sadananda Gowda, comfortably, made an exception of himself and it appeared so in black and white by the same evening from the Commissioner of Health and Family Welfare. An addendum was released to the May 22 order.

It said: “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 by health professionals and others in para 4 (e).”

The addendum, strangely, was dated May 23 but was released to the media only after Sadananda Gowda strolled into this controversy on the evening of May 25. This was very unlike the standard set by the Health and Family Welfare department of Karnataka.

The Union government had not issued any such addendum, however.

On Tuesday morning, however, the generally friendly former chief minister of Karnataka, Sadananda Gowda, with his trademark grin was suddenly unavailable to his own party men. He had quietly moved over to the residential part of his house. He refused to take telephone calls or even respond to messages which was quite unlike him.

“Yes, he is in home quarantine,” confirmed a party leader on condition of anonymity.

“He told us that he had been called by the PMO and told to be in home quarantine,” said another leader who, also, preferred not to be identified.

Sadananda Gowda then issued a long statement to say how “pained” he was at the attempt to turn his official visit to Bengaluru into a controversy when he had not flouted any norm and had gone by the SOP. He also went on to say that he had tested negative to COVID-19.

On Thursday, the Health and Family Welfare department issued another SOP for those arriving from international and domestic destinations. The exempted category included only pregnant women, children below 10 years and below, senior citizens 80 years and above and terminally ill patients.

In short, it means that the norms were hurriedly amended through the addendum on May 23 to facilitate Sadananda Gowda to avoid being quarantined. It is a different matter that the union minister went into home quarantine on the instructions of the PMO.

And now has come the new SOP which would help him return to Delhi since his home quarantine was purely a ‘voluntary’ or informal effort at the behest of the Prime Minister’s Office. He had also tested negative in the meanwhile.

Why the union minister did not think of holding a video conference with officials in Karnataka, instead of getting into a controversy, is “beyond our comprehension,” as one party associate put it.

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