Kerala suffered a setback over the ban on night traffic through Bandipur Tiger Reserve, with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) making a surprise U-turn on its earlier stand and swearing before the Supreme Court that it would maintain present status-quo.
According to experts, with the stand taken by MoRTH and MoEF&CC, Kerala’s chance of revoking the ban has been practically wiped out.
Pressured by the Kerala government, the MoRTH had previously proposed an elevated road through Bandipur, and claimed to have obtained the consent of the Karnataka government.
However, in January 2019, Attorney General KK Venugopal had submitted to the SC that a committee of senior officials of MoRTH, MoEF&CC and NTCA had been formed to look into the issue and resolve the differences between the departments. Deliberating on the issue in February 2019, the committee heard the response from all the stakeholders.
Determined to hear the views of the respective state governments, the committee consulted the chief secretaries of Karnataka and Kerala via video conference and recorded their stand.
Going through the reports, studies and arguments, the committee found that the wildlife had adapted itself to the nighttime restrictions and also an alternative route is available. “Four buses and emergency vehicles are already permitted during the restrictions time between 9:00 pm to 6:00 am. The state governments may examine the need, if any, of strengthening the alternative route for night traffic,” the committee noted and resolved to recommend the status-quo in the matter.
Surprisingly, the MoRTH who is a deponent in the case, was in agreement with the recommendations of the committee.
“Kerala now cannot argue that their pleas were not recorded as their Chief Secretary was heard by the committee and recorded their observation and demand. At last, Karnataka’s efforts are paying results as the Supreme Court has also found that arguments by the Karnataka government are in the larger interest of the flora and fauna,” explained an official. On May 1, the SC bench in view of the affidavit observed that nothing remains of the petition and adjourned the matter to July as Kerala sought time.
Sanjay Gubbi, Wildlife Biologist with Nature Conservation Foundation, said, “It is heartening to see that MoRTH has finally relented to the stand taken by us and the Karnataka Forest Department. Our 11 years of hard work seem to be coming to a fruitful end. It is also heartening to see that at this moment few other groups are trying to support our case after we fought this both in the High Court and in the Supreme Court.”
N Badushah, president, Wayanad Nature Protection Group, also hailed the decision and termed it as a victory for conservation.
Wildlife First, which had filed an IA in the matter, also hailed the decision. “The present stand of MoRTH and MoEF along with the earlier decisions will ensure the protection of Bandipur. Based on what has been filed before SC, Kerala has limited option and solution lies in the alternative route,” said Praveen Bhargav, trustee of Wildlife First.