While night time travel through the Wayanad-Bandipur tiger reserve has been banned, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan called the proposed elevated corridors a “solution to the traffic woes.”

Kerala CM approves fund for flyovers in Bandipur-Wayanad route activists opposeKamaljith KV via Wikimedia Commons
news Wildlife Tuesday, December 04, 2018 - 13:45

In a move that has wildlife conservationists and neighbouring Karnataka up in arms, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on November 30 announced that the state government has sanctioned money for the construction of five elevated corridors that will cut through the Bandipur tiger reserve. Taking to social media platforms, the Kerala CM stated that the state is willing to bear 50% of the cost that is required to construct the elevated corridors on the Bandipur -Wayanad stretch, which Pinarayi termed a “solution to the traffic woes” on the route.  The total cost for the entire project is estimated to be around Rs 500 crore. “The road which will be 15-metre wide will go on for a length of 1 kilometre. And we are expecting to build five such elevated roads,” said Pinarayi Vijayan in his Facebook post.

However, night time travel through the Wayanad-Bandipur tiger reserve along the National Highway 766 (previously NH 212) has been banned since 2009. The ban was introduced when the Karnataka High Court was hearing a case pertaining to the death of 215 animals, which were mowed down by motor vehicles between 2004 and 2007. These animals include tigers and elephants which were attempting to cross the road in the forest reserve at night.

It was based on the special leave petitions of the Kerala government, the Ooty Hotel Owners Association and others demanding the lifting of the night time travel ban that the Supreme Court in January ordered the setting up of a separate committee to look into the issue. The committee not only went on to endorse the lifting of the night time travel ban but also proposed the construction of the elevated corridors.  In October, the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had told the Supreme Court that in order to ensure smooth travel from Wayanad to Bandipur, five elevated roads with a distance of one kilometre could be built along the route.

The Karnataka government as well as wildlife conservationists have strongly opposed Pinarayi Vijayan’s announcement stating that the proposed elevated corridor could cause serious threat to animals that move along the route, especially the Asiatic elephants and tigers.

Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, who has vociferously opposed the proposed project and the lifting of the night time traffic ban, had tweeted on November 29 stating, “We do not approve the Union Road Transport Department's decision to construct a flyover in Bandipur Forest. It is not right to lift the ban on night traffic in Bandipur. It is of utmost importance that we protect the Bandipur Forest.”

Speaking to TNM, Joseph Hoover, a wildlife conservationist based in Bengaluru said that the construction of the elevated roads will cause serious damage to the wildlife corridor. “This (Wayanad - Bandipur route) is where a good amount of genetically viable population of Asiatic elephants are present in the country - around 5,500 of them,” said Joseph.

Joseph said that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has classified the tiger reserves as inviolate areas, which means that it must be protected.

“When you fragment the forest, the animals which are moving from one region to another looking for territory, will start to enter the villages. This will in turn escalate man animal conflicts, which is as it is on the rise these days,” he added.

Joseph also suggested that an alternate route can be used instead of the Bandipur route to travel between Kerala and Karnataka. “There is an existing road which passes through Hunsur, which is an excess of only 45 kilometres. Instead of going through Bandipur, one will have to go through Hunsur to reach Kozhikode. Rs 75 crore has been spent to make this road.”

“It’s not that the road is completely out of bounds during the night. All vehicles in case of emergencies are allowed to travel during the restricted hours. As far as public transport is concerned, 8 buses each from both the state is also given permission to travel at night,” said Joseph.

Lashing out at the Kerala Government for their adamance in lifting the restriction on night travel through the Bandipur route, Joseph alleged that it is an attempt to cater to the business lobby including the smuggling timber lobby and transport lobbies. “All kinds of smuggling happen through the night,” he alleged.

The environmental activists in Karnataka has organised various protests against the lifting of the night time traffic ban as well as the construction of the elevated corridors. “We will continue to fight and are willing to go to the jail regarding this issue,” emphasised Joseph.

Speaking to TNM, Bhagyalakshmi, another environmental activist based out of Karnataka said, “As it is we have begun to see a rise in natural disasters in all places. This is just a trailer from mother nature. And on top of that, we want to destroy whatever little is remaining of the forest cover.”

“Karnataka Barely has 6% of forest cover remaining in the state. Can’t we protect at least that much area for our future generation?” asks Bhagyalakshmi.

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