Highway to Bandipur’s destruction

Highway to Bandipur’s destruction

NHAI’s bid to skirt rules, opposition is shocking

Credit: DH file photo

While environmental activists have so far managed to stave off the Kerala government’s manoeuvres to get the night ban on traffic through Bandipur National Park lifted, they now have to contend with the National Highway Authority of India’s (NHAI) move to divert nearly 24 acres of the tiger reserve land to widen an existing highway stretch of about 13 km. While two highways cut through the park, the NHAI has sought a nod from the Union environment and forest ministry to expand NH-181 which connects Mysuru to Ooty, without “any hindrance” from the Karnataka forest department. This road is frequented by tourists. What has raised eyebrows is the NHAI’s move to bypass not only the eco-sensitive notification for the park, which mandates an environment impact assessment while widening roads, but also the state forest department, which has consistently opposed attempts to allow increased vehicular movement within the reserve area, including a proposal to construct flyovers and underpasses. The Guidelines for Roads in Protected Areas also lays down that the status quo should be maintained on roads passing through national parks and tiger habitats, while allowing for existing carriageways to be repaired and maintained only in their current form and extent.

Besides tigers, Bandipur is home to several species like the elephant, leopard, chital, sambar, barking deer, langur and rusty-spotted cat, besides reptiles, birds and amphibians. With increasing animal deaths due to accidents, the Karnataka High Court had in 2009 banned night traffic through the park, which was upheld by the Supreme Court. The existing highways already have a huge adverse impact on wildlife, obstructing the free movement of animals, higher mortality due to accidents, and even impacting the behaviour of animals, in addition to noise and air pollution. Environmentalists see the proposal to widen the 13-km stretch as a ruse to then widen the rest of the highway through the forests also in due course, which can only spell doom for wildlife. Bandipur is also an important watershed for Kabini and Moyar rivers.

The animals in the wild have the first right to the forests. To dissect the forests and further shrink them with highways and other infrastructure projects for the sake of human convenience, instead of investing all available resources on conservation, is foolhardy. The NHAI’s attempt to widen the road, skirting existing rules in the process, is condemnable. Bandipur is among the few pristine forest areas still left in the country and it should be protected at all costs.

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