Why people of Wayanad are protesting closure of Kerala-Karnataka highway through Bandipur Tiger Reserve?
Wayanad district of Kerala is witnessing series of protests against a ban on night traffic on the forest stretch of NH 766. NH 766 is a key highway between Karnataka and Kerala and it passes through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka.
Night Ban on Traffic in the stretch of Bandipur Tiger Reserve
The Chamarajanagar district administration of Karnataka banned night traffic on the 19-km forest leg of NH 766 in August 2009. The decision was based on the report of the project officer of Bandipur Tiger Reserve which noted the number of animals being hit by vehicles at night. An inspection had found that 44 vehicles were on this 19-km stretch in a span of 30 minutes.
The report said that night traffic would affect behaviour biologies such as breeding and parental care of animals, disrupt their life cycle and make them stray to human habitats.
After demands from the bus operators, the district administration withdrew the ban. But this was questioned in Karnataka High Court. The High Court re-imposed the night traffic ban and noted that the interest of protecting wildlife is important, and it is no less important is the need to protect the interest of the public, who are commuters and traders. The court also pointed to the availability of an alternate road which was about 35 km longer.
This order was questioned in the Supreme Court and the issue has remained inconclusive since then.
Night traffic ban and Wildlife
Bandipur Tiger Reserve which spreads over 990.51 sq km is part of interconnected forests that include Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary (Tamil Nadu), Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (Kerala) and Nagarhole National Park (Karnataka).
A large variety of wildlife including the elephant moves from one stretch to another, cutting the states. Bandipur has 140 tigers, 1,600 elephants and 25,000 spotted deer.
The project director of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve states that before the ban, the stretch reported 100-odd animal deaths in accidents. After the ban it has come down to five to ten.
The project director argues that if the highway is opened, fatalities would increase manifold. Over the last decade, animal populations, as well as traffic, have gone up.
Why the protests have surged now?
The Supreme Court while upholding the night traffic ban asked the NHAI to upgrade the alternative road and sought the Centre’s opinion on closing down NH 766 permanently.
The protests have picked up after that as people fear that a blanket ban on traffic would impact the economic development of Wayanad, particularly in Sulthan Bathery taluk. Since the alternative road is 35 km away, it is argued that it would cost time and money besides raising prices of commodities.