Amid traffic ban and protests, wildlife of Bandipur National Park awaits fate
Protests in Wayanad have once again brought the traffic regulations through the Bandipur National Park into the limelight. The immediate trigger for the protests were caused by a recent Supreme Court direction to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to give suggestion on strengthening alternative route which is now used instead of NH 766 (old no. 212) so that NH 766 could be shut down permanently in a long run, even though the night ban was first enforced a decade ago.
This mega-diversity area became a Tiger Reserve under the Project Tiger in 1973 and in 1984 this was declared as a National Park. Once a private hunting reserve for the Maharaja of the Kingdom of Mysore, situated in the foothills of the Nilgiri Hills, Bandipur National park with Mudumalai Tiger Reserve to the west, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northwest and Nagarhole National Park is a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
With effect from June 3, 2009, the then District Magistrate of Chamrajanagar banned all vehicular traffic in Bandipur (Gundlupet - Sultan Battery - NH 212 and Gundlupet - Ooty- NH 66) from 9 pm to 6 am, with exceptions to help emergency cases and the public and villagers of the area. This was done based on the study and inspection reports submitted.
In a road traffic survey of these two roads, it was found that “on an average 30 vehicles are moving in every hour during the night time between 8 pm and 6 am”. In a detailed report (dated 23-1-2009) submitted by Dr. R. Raju IFS, the then Deputy Conservator of Forests, Project Tiger Division, Bandipur, the reasons for the night ban of traffic through these two roads were explained. The reasons can be summarized as follows
It is mentioned in the report that the illegal collection and clandestine transportation of wildlife produces could go uncontrollable as the traffic used to be independent and without any regulations. It also facilitates poachers, hunters and smugglers. In the report, it is stated that ‘the night traffic has been very convenient to the interstate and local forest criminals to arrive and depart from this park after the crime is committed during the night’. This also states that ‘this park being a very large in extent the bordering and other “interstate social criminals, Naxals” can invade, hide and fly away with the help of night vehicular traffic freely and independently after committing serious crimes’. Also, the transport of illegally collected, highly valued medicinal plants, ferns and smaller mammals and invertebrate animals of scientific and medicinal importance of this park affects the bio-diversity of the park.
The rich fauna, including tigers and elephants, of the area were being killed in road accidents the number used to be very high. This was leading to social sensitivity at the state and national level.
The sound and light pollution of the area was really high, which forced the animals to recede to inner forests or sometimes to the nearby villages. Also, the nocturnal life of many diurnal wild animals and active life of nocturnal animals are affected due to the light and sound flow and this is endangering the stability of the entire ecosystem in the park.
Man - animal Conflict
The disturbed animals, including elephants, go to the nearby villages and farmers’ land, causing casualties, crop and property damages. As per the report, this is a very serious problem caused by night traffic disturbances only.
The behavioural biology of animals like mating, breeding, nursing and parental care can be affected by continued night traffic. This would affect the life cycle and also the animal population on long term exposure.
According to Badusha N, the President of Wayanad Prakruthi Samrakshana Samithi, there was no serious issues or protests in 2009 when the night traffic ban came into force. The public and farmers there had no problem with the ban. He also stated that the quarry, ginger, hawala, gold and resort tourism mafia are behind the sudden protest by spreading rumours that Wayanad is going to get isolated soon through a blanket ban. Also, the church is trying to intensify the protest and create mass hysteria by supplying money and manpower for the agitation. Some people with vested interests are now behind the objections, said Badusha.
Samshad Marakkar, the coordinator of the Youth Front which leads the agitation, says that the difference in the distance shown is approximately 40km because it is calculated from Calicut to Mysore. But for the people of Kerala who goes to Gundlupet from Bathery and for those labours coming from Gundlupet to Bathery will have to travel for almost 230 km instead of the 36km road they use now. This will cause a revenue loss of 5347 crores. Also, the funding of the protests comes through publicly kept donation boxes. People donate to this cause as much as possible and this comes not just in cash, but some even donated gold like a woman who donated her earrings. At 7 pm, the closing time of protest, the collection of the day is counted publicly and is recorded in a book which is then signed by 3 people. This money is used for the expenses of the protest. He also said that their advocates are people who took up the case because of those who pledge their solidarity with the protest, including Rahul Gandhi, unlike the famous advocates hired by the environmentalist mafia. According to him, the night traffic ban only increased smuggling and illegal activities in the protected area as there is no one present there to keep a check. So, a complete ban would increase the gravity of the issue. Also, man-animal conflict is an issue there. If closed permanently the area will become denser forest and this issue would rise and this might lead to the evacuation of the tribal people, there which is a possible threat to their existence.
Samshad also says that the road which is now NH 766 passing through the area is not a new one, but a road used even before 800 years. It is also a cultural link as it connects Kerala with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. All these caused the people of the area to unite unlike in 2009 when people were divided on political lines, blaming each other. He also made it clear that those who protest there are not against the environment or wildlife, what they want is a better option like an elevated highway so that people can be benefitted without harming the forest.
In the Demi-official (D.O) from Prakash Javadekar, the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala, dated September 17, 2019, it is stated that the suggestions from the side of Kerala has been discussed in a meeting of Committee of Secretaries chaired by Cabinet Secretary and it was recommended to maintain the status quo on the restriction of night time traffic ban and strengthen the alternate route (which is 35 km longer) which is now available for night time traffic. Based on this recommendation the Supreme Court has directed the environment ministry for suggestions for strengthening the alternate route comprising NH 275 and State Highway-90 as National Highway on par with NH-212, so in the long run NH-766 (212) could be closed permanently. But the protesters of Wayanad, with the help of leaders from all political parties in Kerala, have managed to talk to the authorities in central government to give the clear picture of problems related to the change of route, according to Samshad.
The people of the area oppose the blanket traffic ban through Bandipur as this may affect the economic development of the area which includes Sultan Bathery. Be it a night ban or blanket ban for the traffic through the area, what is to be kept in mind is that the area should have economic development without compromising on the rich biodiversity of the National Park. The wildlife crimes which are facilitated by the night traffic through the National Park should also be a point of concern.