Alternate highway to Kerala may prove a bumpy ride too

Participants in a protest meeting, led by Kerala MLAs M C Balakrishnan (Sulthan Bathery) and C K Saseendran (Kalpetta), against the regulation of traffic in Bandipur forests, recently. Photo by special arrangement

The Supreme Court may have asked the Union government to come out with a permanent solution to prevent the movement of vehicles on the highways, through the core area of tiger reserves between Karnataka and Kerala. But, it is a challenging job as a portion of both the highways, connecting Karnataka and Kerala — National Highway (NH) 212 and NH 275, pass through the tiger reserves.

It may be mentioned that there were protests in Kerala recently by businessmen, led by people's representatives, demanding to lift the regulations on traffic.

At present, all kinds of motor vehicles on national highway 212, between Gundlupet and Sulthan Bathery, are banned between 9 pm and 6 am. The vehicles are allowed on the route, comprising parts of SH 90 and NH 275. The road passes through Hunsur, Gonikoppa, Kutta and connects Sulthan Bathery. The stretch passes through Nagarahole Tiger Reserve from Hunsur, up to Gonikoppa.

This is the only alternative route to Kerala. But a part of the road is under Nagarahole Tiger Reserve. There is no provision for widening the road in the national reserve, as per the guidelines of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).

The Supreme Court has directed to explore if it is possible to merge NH-275 and State Highway 90 into a National Highway and see if both the width and other features of this road be made on a par with NH-212, which can, in the long run, be closed down altogether.

Presently, the stretch of NH-275 measures five metres in width and it needs to be extended to 12.5 meters. Hundreds of trees need to be axed to expand the road and wildlife will be severely affected.

According to Rajkumar Devaraje Urs, managing trustee of Wildlife Conservation Foundation, as per the norms, it is not possible to merge SH 90 with NH 212. As per MoEFCC norms, no development activities can be taken up in a tiger reserve. The stretch, between Hunsur and Gonikoppa, passes through Mattigodu, which comes under Nagarahole Tiger Reserve.

The wild animals migrate from Nagarahole to Periyapatna forest region across this highway. The migration is high during summer season as Nagarahole Forest is dry deciduous and Periyapatna forest is moist deciduous forest. He said a wild elephant and a bison were reportedly killed in a road accident on the stretch, recently.

The farmers and traders of Gundlupet and surrounding villages are also against the closure of the NH-212 as their produce has a huge market in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu and NH-212 is the only link to the two neighbouring states from this region.

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