Wildlife activists and volunteers in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, are set to launch a massive drive urging decision makers to maintain status quo with regards to night traffic ban (9 pm-6 am) on the 25 km stretch of National Highway 212 in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve corridor.
This, after the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways approached Karnataka government to give a thumbs up for not only lifting the night ban, but also allow further no holds barred widening of the National Highway. Moreover, in Bandipur, the Centre wants to build five elevated corridors of 1 km each within the 25 km roadway as a measure to reduce fuel expenditure and reduce import burden.
Activists are alarmed after a communication between the Ministry of Road and Transport Secretary YS Malik to the Karnataka Chief Secretary got leaked, which TNM has also accessed. The communication talks about how CM HD Kumaraswamy and PWD Minister HD Revanna, his brother, had verbally agreed to the project.
On August 8, the three states and the Centre will have to make their stand clear at the Supreme Court hearing on a case pertaining to Bharatmala project. The project aims to revamp highways across the country to increase cargo passageways in economic corridors and state border areas.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority in March had already advised the government not to go ahead with the project, since it could harm the habitat of more than 100 tigers and many wild animals.
“We are definitely going to protest against this project. We are currently working out strategies and organising our volunteers on how to make the protests most effective. We will also go to Bandipur to spread awareness on the issue. We will write to the CM and PM along with all concerned forums,” Sunil Baberwal, a member of Eco-Volunteers India Trust told TNM.
He added, “Night traffic killed scores of our wildlife species in the past. Based on the scientific data provided by D Rajkumar of the Wildlife Conservation Foundation, the Karnataka High Court had stopped night traffic between 9 pm and 6 am. Research showed tigers, leopards, elephants using the road more frequently after the night traffic ban was introduced. It would be foolish of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy to revoke the ban.”
Meanwhile, a Change.org petition — ‘Please Save Bandipur Tigers - No Elevated Highway. No Removal Of Night Traffic Ban’ addressed to the CM has started doing rounds on social media.
Two senior officials of the Karnataka Forest Department confirmed to TNM that it has been opposed by them and the same has been verbally communicated to the CM and he has acknowledged it.
“A file on this matter has been sent to the CM’s office where we have opposed not only the lifting of traffic ban but also further construction in the stretch. The part where the letter says that the CM has agreed to lift the traffic ban seems untrue. The ministers might have said they will examine the matter of building elevated corridors,” one highly placed source told TNM.
The existing traffic ban has been in effect since 2009 when the Karnataka High Court banned traffic flow after dark on NH-67 and NH-212 while hearing a case pertaining to roadkills of at least 215 animals being run over between 2004 and 2007.
For the night, commuters currently use a 30-km detour of the Hunsur-Gonikoppa-Kutta-
Following the Karnataka HC order, Tamil Nadu imposed s similar night traffic ban in its Mudumalai Tiger Reserve while Kerala has consistently opposed the traffic ban citing inconvenience faced by its people travelling to and from Bengaluru. This, despite Kerala’s forest department itself having reservations on the issue.
As recently as March, wildlife activists of all the three states staged protests against the Kerala government’s proposal to vacate the closure on night traffic through Bandipur Tiger Reserve. The venue of the demonstrations were the Aranya Bhawan in Bengaluru where Officers from the Kerala Transport and Forest departments, their Karnataka and Tamil Nadu counterparts and those from the National Highways Authority of India met.
To the relief of the activists, the Karnataka government which is the major stakeholder of the stretch, once again, insisted that the night ban remains.