Principal eco-debate apart ‘interest groups at work’

Traders, many of them from Wayanad and Kozhikode districts, have been opposing the night traffic ban. File photo

As concerns about wildlife conservation run into the argument of human inconvenience, the debate gets polarised. Amid charges and counter-charges, there, however, is consensus that interest groups are at work.

The night traffic ban on the stretch through Bandipur has led to a 40% drop in tourism activity in Wayanad, according to industry sources in the district. The industry has made various representations to successive governments seeking measures to lift the ban. K Ravindran, general secretary of Wayanad Tourism Organisation, says the ban was implemented at a time Wayanad was peaking as a destination.

“Bengaluru was the top feeder for tourism in Wayanad because it offered many options for a two-night break during weekends. Now, those tourists are heading to Coorg,” he said. Ravindran maintains commitment to addressing ecological concerns and backs possible alternatives including wildlife corridors to ensure that night traffic resumes on the stretch. He dismisses allegations of lobbying in influencing successive governments. “In fact, we feel that our case has not been presented well. We haven’t made ourselves heard,” he said.

Traders, many of them from Wayanad and Kozhikode districts, have been opposing the night traffic ban. People who trade in perishable goods have highlighted the inconvenience caused in taking the longer, alternative route. Wildlife expert P S Easa doesn’t back calls for revoking the ban to revive the tourism sector, but feels traders have a case.

“While taking up conservation activities, it’s also important to ensure that people are not put to hardships. Traders of perishable goods have an issue here and it has to be addressed,” he says. Easa, in recommendations made to the state transport department regarding the night traffic ban, had suggested limited entry of vehicles on the stretch on a convoy basis. He feels the system could partially address the traders’ grievances. The counter-argument comes from those who point out that the present timing also allows substantial goods traffic to pass through the stretch. The debate over the alternative route between Hunsur and Mananthavady has also set off talks about other possible roads to connect the two states through Wayanad.

The Nilgiri-Wayanad NH and Railway Action Committee says real estate groups are buying vast stretches of land in a bid to cash in on the possibilities. The committee also dismisses the argument that the alternative route addresses ecological concerns.

Officials who have taken up assessment of locations along the stretch have also hinted at possibilities of a real estate rush. “Most of the time, the real questions are buried somewhere when everything becomes political. After a point, alternatives become inconsequential because wildlife is a casualty anyway. There is road-kill on the alternative route, but not many are talking about it,” says an official.

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Principal eco-debate apart ‘interest groups at work’

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