Kerala government just wants to infringe on the rights of the animals, says the Forest Department.

Kerala CMs push for Bandipur elevated corridor irks environmentalists in both statesFile image
news Environment Thursday, August 29, 2019 - 18:50

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has once again spoken in favour of constructing an elevated corridor through Bandipur Tiger Reserve connecting Wayanad and Mysuru, but the Karnataka Forest Department and environmentalists on both sides remain adamantly against the proposal. 

The Kerala government is looking to bypass the existing night traffic ban on a 25 km-stretch of National Highway 212 by cutting through a core part of the forest with an elevated corridor. The government has reportedly even offered to fund half the project and the CM has written to Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar. Currently, only a limited number of government-run buses and emergency vehicles are allowed to operate during the restricted period of 9 pm to 6 am on the stretch. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court upheld the existing ban on vehicular traffic in the night.

“They are once again trying to rake up the same issue. We will continue to oppose this. The Centre had also not supported it and even the Supreme Court had directed that the alternative route be used,” Punnati Sridhar, the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) of Karnataka’s Forest Department told TNM. The alternative route is the Hunsur-Gonikoppa-Kutta-Mananthavady Road.

“There is already an alternative route with only a 40 km-detour and the Karnataka government has spent Rs 75 crore on it. Kerala government just wants to infringe on the rights of the animals,” he added.

Read: No elevated corridor in K’taka’s Bandipur Tiger Reserve: Centre makes stand clear

The Kerala Chief Minister’s letter to Prakash Javadekar had reportedly stated that Kerala would bear half the cost of the entire project as it will prove beneficial to residents of Wayanad, Kozhikode and Malappuram districts.

Kerala government’s suggestion to construct the elevated corridor has been viewed as a disastrous move even by environmentalists from within the state. Speaking to TNM, Harish Vasudevan, a lawyer and environmental activist based in Kerala says that the move is primarily against the conservation of wildlife. “Firstly, the damage that is going to take place during the construction phase of the elevated corridor itself will have a harmful impact on the forests and wildlife. There won’t be anything left to harm after the construction of the flyover is over,” he states. 

Harish adds that another project by the Kerala Government project  to enhance the State's resilience against the impacts of natural disasters and climate change. approved by the World Bank, known as the Resilient Kerala Development Project (RKDP) itself states that no fragmentation of forest by new highways of forest is not allowed.

Meanwhile, Meera Rajesh, a former IT professional and a concerned citizen, has also voiced out her displeasure against the state government’s decision, despite the fact that there are other alternate routes. 

“The traffic ban is only put in place during the night. There are plenty of National Highways with night traffic ban including Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka. People are not complaining about all of that, then what is the issue only with Bandipur?,” she asks. 

By stating that Bandipur is much larger in terms of area than Nagarhole and is home to a larger number of tigers, Meera states that Bandipur deserves to be provided with a night traffic ban. “I don’t understand why there is a need of flyover through the forests when the government has not constructed flyovers in busy cities and roads in other parts of the state which have a large population,” she adds. 

“As it is, Kerala registration vehicles holds the record of running over and killing most number of wild animals in Karnataka. One can cross check this fact by visiting any of the forest police stations in Karnataka, especially in Kodagu,” Meera added.

In March 2018, the National Tiger Conservation Authority had advised the Centre against moving ahead with the project as it could have adverse effects on the forest habitat, where over a hundred tigers currently reside. The existing traffic ban on traffic flow after dark came into effect in 2009 while the Karnataka High Court was hearing a case pertaining to roadkill. At least 215 animals were killed by oncoming traffic between 2004 and 2007, according to the court.

Even recently when Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi had asked an easing of the restrictions, he attracted criticism of wildlife conservationists.  

Read: Rahul Gandhi irks environmentalists as he seeks lifting of Bandipur night traffic ban

Ever since the project was first proposed, activists in both Kerala and Karnataka have been up in arms. Multiple protests have been held at the gates of the reserve areas to voice their opposition. They feared that around 50,000 trees would be cut down and the project would further narrow the animal passageway. Many activists have also alleged that Kerala government seeks the lift of the ban allegedly in favour of influential businessmen and the private transport industry.

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