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NH 766 ban controversy, Protests in Kerala against night traffic ban on the forest stretch

NH 766 ban controversy, Protests in Kerala against night traffic ban on the forest stretch

Tag:GS3||Environment||Biodiversity||Conservation Efforts

Why in news?

  • Karnataka imposed a night traffic ban on NH 766 connecting Wayanad that led to massive protests in Wayanad.
  • Supreme Court upheld night traffic ban, crucial for the safety of wildlife in Bandipur tiger reserve in Karnataka.

What Is The Issue:

  • The existing night traffic ban has been in effect since 2009 and in March 2018, the National Tiger Conservation Authority had also advised the Centre against the elevated corridor project since this could have a damaging impact on the forest ecology which has a significant tiger population.
  • This is a 19-km stretch running through protected Bandipur forest on which vehicular movement is not allowed between 9 pm and 6 am. The ban was first imposed in 2009 following a report by an expert committee concluding that night traffic posed serious threat to life and the biological behavioral pattern of the wildlife in the protected forest.

Reason of Protest in Wayanad:

  • Sc upheld the night ban: the ban has already in place for 10 years but the current agitation or violence is because of a current decision given by apex court.
  • The apex court directed the MOEFCC and the NHAI regarding the issue of highway NH 766. SC directed the ministry and NHAI they should find alternative routes and NH 766 should be shut down permanently.
  • It also directed the Centre to come up with permanent measures so that highways do not pass through core areas of tiger reserves.
  • Alternative route: finding an alternative route and complete ban is an issue that is the reason for an indefinite hunger strike by youth leaders from various parties demanding round the clock connectivity through the forest stretch of NH-766.

 Past protests:

  • High court: It was imposed by the Chamarajanagar district administration of Karnataka. Activists then moved the Karnataka High Court seeking re-imposition of night traffic ban. The high court upheld the night traffic ban in 2010 and directed the Karnataka government to develop an alternate route. Kerala government approached the Supreme Court for relief. After much delay, the Supreme Court upheld the night traffic ban.
  • Alternative route: The Supreme Court, like the high court, also directed the governments to develop alternate road connectivity.

Argument in favour of the night ban:

  • Karnataka and Tamilnadu government: both government in the support of the night ban.

 Argument against night ban:

  • Construction of elevated sections: The state government has to urge the Ministry of Environment and Forests to consider the construction of elevated sections on the highway. The Kerala government has been stating that an elevated corridor can be constructed on the 25-km stretch of National Highway 212 (now called 766). for e.g, the National Highway Authority of India has built several underpasses on NH 44 which passes through Pench and Kanha tiger reserve.
  • Economic development impacted: various religious organizations, youth, and traders believe that the ban will impact the Wayanad economic development. It will also impact interstate trade because it is the only route that connects Wayanad with Karnataka.

Positive Impact of night ban:

  • Animal fatalities came down: The night traffic ban has brought down the number of accidents and injuries to the wild animals. But it has come at a cost to the people of Wayanad, which depend a lot on the markets for its agricultural and livestock products in neighboring Karnataka districts.
  • Connects three reserved forests: Bandipur tiger reserve is spread over about 1,000 sq km across three states – Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. In fact, it connects three reserved forests of the Nagarhole National Park of Karnataka, the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary of Kerala and lot of flora like elephants, tiger, and deers live there.

Way forward:

  • The Centre has now assured Kerala that a committee would be set up to study the night traffic ban on the national highway passing through Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka.
  • Other roads:
    • So, the alternative currently available to people is the one that connects Wayanad with Mysuru running through Mysuru Kutta, Gonikuppal and Hunsur in Karanataka. The problem is that this route is 35 km longer than the national highway, and it also passes through the same forest.
    • The routes connect Wayanad with neighboring areas of Karnataka. One of them – between Mysuru and Wayanad – had been closed for night traffic, from 6 pm to 6 am.
  • Tigers use these underpasses regularly even during the daytime. Similar mitigation measures could be considered on NH-766 to remove barriers to free movement for wildlife.

 Conclusion:

  • Central and State Governments have to safeguard the interests of local communities while upholding the collective responsibility to protect our environment.

Additional Info:

Bandipur Tiger Reserve:

  • One of the oldest tiger reserves: Home to about 140 tigers, more than 1,500 elephants, and over 25,000 deer, Bandipur is one of the oldest tiger reserves in India. It was once a forest where the Maharaja of Mysore would go for hunting. When Project Tiger was launched in 1973, Bandipur forest was declared as a tiger reserve.
  • In 1984, Bandipur tiger reserve became a national park.
  • Connects three reserved forests: In fact, it connects three reserved forests of the Nagarhole National Park of Karnataka, the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary of Kerala.

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