The Karnataka government has done well to strongly and consistently oppose neighbouring Kerala's demand to lift the ban on movement of vehicles at night through the wildlife-rich Bandipur Tiger Reserve. Ever since restrictions came into force in 2009, Kerala politicians and bureaucrats have been pressuring Karnataka to lift the ban - which is imposed between 9 pm and 6 am - on vehicular traffic going through the protected forests. At a recent meeting convened by the National Tiger Conservation Association at the instance of the Supreme Court, and attended by representatives of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the Union surface transport ministry, Kerala again vehemently argued for free flow of traffic through NH-212 and NH-67 during night but did not find any support from others. The decision taken at the meeting - to reject the demand made by Kerala - will be placed before the Supreme Court, which will pass the final orders, hopefully putting an end to a needless debate that has dragged on for years.
The Bandipur and Nagarahole tiger reserves in the Western Ghats region, which boast of some of the most endangered animals like the mouse deer, antelope, strip-necked mongoose, civet, porcupine, gaur, chital, wild boar, hyaena, and lion-tailed macaque, besides large animals like elephants, tigers and leopards, are among the most precious forests in the country that help maintain ecological balance. Vehicular movement has been growing over the years as these forests are at the tri-junction of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It was when complaints of animals being run over by speeding vehicles increased that Karnataka decided to impose the traffic ban, but only in the night. Environmentalists have been pressing for a 6 pm to 6 am ban, noting that, thanks to the ban, the number of animals killed by speeding vehicles has come down drastically not only in Bandipur, but adjoining Mudumalai and Wayanad regions. The night ban has also drastically reduced illegal activities like timber smuggling, wildlife poaching and sand mining.
Kerala's argument that the ban increased travel time for those commuting between Wayanad and Kozhikode and places in Karnataka and affected the economy of the state has been effectively punctured after Karnataka spent Rs 64 crore to spruce up an alternative route. It has reportedly cut the travel time by two hours and become popular among travellers. Development of three more alternative roads is also being considered. Since public inconvenience, if any, is being addressed, Kerala's continued demand for lifting the night ban has raised suspicions. The Centre will also do well to abandon a proposal to construct a tunnel under Bandipur Tiger Reserve, which is wholly unnecessary.