Please Save Bandipur Tigers - No Elevated Highway. No Removal Of Night Traffic Ban.
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Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka, part of the larger Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve forms one of the largest continuous forest areas in India. A night ban on vehicular traffic along the two national highways (NH-67 and NH-212) through this park has saved many endangered wild animals of these forests. These highways were closed for vehicular traffic at night time (9.00 pm to 6.00 am on NH 67 and NH 212 ) in response to a high court order in WP 17498/2009 and 919/2010 dated 09-03-2010. However, all emergency vehicles (ambulance, fire services, people going to hospitals) and 16 state transport buses continue to be allowed to pass at night.
There are clear documentation and several scientific studies that depict reduction of wildlife mortalities at night time after the highways were closed based on the orders of the Hon’ble High Court. Three scientific studies* carried out in this landscape (Bandipur-Nagarahole- Mudumalai) highlight the adverse impacts of highways and vehicular traffic on wildlife.
Of late there has been a concerted push by vested business interests to open up the highways for traffic. There is also a proposal to construct an elevated highway of length more than 24 km through the tiger reserve. A new elevated road will lead to the destruction of more than 50,000 trees in the critical tiger landscape, thus permanently causing disturbance and habitat fragmentation. The disturbance caused by the construction, human activity and residence, which is bound to take several years, will cause avoidance of the road stretch by wild animals. The displaced animals are bound to infringe into the surrounding villages and lead to increased human-wildlife conflict.
A special committee formed under the orders of Karnataka High Court had given its opinion: “Based on various ecological factors and policies (we) feel that the disturbance on wildlife including elephants would increase if any changes as suggested in night closure is made which could result in higher impact on all wildlife and their habitat.” Further, the committee also writes, “Based on various ecological factors and alternatives available, it was opined by the experts that the current system should be maintained status quo and no changes should be implemented. If possible, the night closure should be extended to 6.00 pm.”
When objections were filed on the night traffic ban, an alternate road on the orders of the Hon’ble Court and also as requested by Kerala Government was developed by the Government of Karnataka by spending over INR 500 million by improving (State Highway-90) via Hunsur-Gonikoppa-Kutta-Kartikulam. In addition, other roads (Konanur-Makutta, Madikeri-Kutta) that connect northern Kerala were also improved by the Government of Karnataka by spending over INR 300 million. The road is already in use during both day and night. The alternate road is only 30 km long and the vehicular traffic has also adjusted to the alternate road at night time. This has largely helped commuters travelling at night time.
Despite the alternate highway and allowance of emergency vehicles through the tiger reserve in the night, some entities have filed petitions in the Supreme Court of India. A total of three petitions including 24865 and 24866 of 2012 connected with SLP (Civil) No.13838/2010 have been filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. The petitioner who has challenged the order of the high court in the Supreme Court on behalf of the opening of night traffic has three forest offense cases filed against him including the killing of an elephant calf, encroachment of forestland, tampering of the boundary of forestland and other serious offenses. This puts the whole case in a different perspective and brings in large-scale suspicion about intentions of the challenge to open the night traffic.
The activity of wildlife especially predators peak during nighttime, hence, it is not in the interest of large carnivores and other wildlife to reduce the time of the closure of night traffic.
The night closure of these national highways was has set an example to provide safe passages for our fellow beings on this planet. With a well-built alternate highway constructed with the state government’s fund, this proves to be a sustainable and well-balanced solution. Even the Hon'ble Supreme Court had quoted this initiative as exemplary in one of its orders.
Based on the scientific evidence available, Court's verdict and general public opinion, and stand taken by the previous four Karnataka Chief Ministers to keep the highways closed for traffic during night time, we implore the current government and officials to continue the status quo by rejecting any appeals to open up the highways during night time or construction of any elevated roads or passage through Bandipur Tiger Reserve.
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* Scientific studies
Gubbi, S., H. C. Poornesha and M. D. Madhusudan. 2012. Impact of vehicular traffic on the use of highway edges by large mammals in a South Indian wildlife reserve. Current Science. 102:1047–1051
Prakash, A. B., 2012. A study on the impacts of highways on wildlife in Bandipur Tiger Reserve.National Centre for Biological Sciences.Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore.
Vidya, T. N. C., and V. Thuppil. 2010. Immediate behavioural responses of humans and Asian elephants in the context of road traffic in southern India. Biological Conservation.143:1891-1900.
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