New alternative route may help break Bandipur impasse

The protest at Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad district of Kerala against the traffic restriction along NH 766 passing through the Bandipur tiger reserve is intensifying by the day. DH File Photo

As the protest against the traffic restriction along NH 766 passing through the Bandipur tiger reserve is intensifying, a section of environmentalists is mooting a new alternative route that will pass through only minimum forest area and can reduce the distance between Wayanad and Mysuru by around 20 km.

The alternative proposal is to develop an existing forest path along Moolankavu - Valluvadi (in Wayanad) - Chikkabargi - Begur near Gundlupet. The National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC), an agency under the Kerala government, had suggested this as one of the alternative routes in 2014 to overcome the restrictions along the Bandipur highway.

A campaign for developing this stretch is gaining momentum among the people of Wayanad, especially Sulthan Bathery town, as the alternative route suggested by the Supreme Court, via Kutta-Gonikoppa (NH 275 and SH 90), will be too long for travelling from Bathery to Gundlupet.

Activists pushing for the Moolankavu-Begur bypass said that it would reduce the distance between Sultan Bathery and Mysuru from 115 km to 95 km.

While NH 766 passes through about 30-km forest, including 19-km tiger reserve, the proposed bypass will pass through the only nine-km forest, of which only around six km is in the tiger reserve. The Moolankavu-Begur route will pass through only a side of the Critical Tiger Habitat and hence, the impact on tiger reserve can be minimised.

Neelgiri Wayanad NH and Railway Action Council executive member Abdul Razak told DH that the Valluvadi-Begur stretch was also proposed for the Nanjangud (Mysuru)-Nilambur (Malappuram in Kerala) railway line. The NATPAC report said an elevated road could be constructed in the forest section in conjunction with the proposed rail line.

Anto George, a leader of the NH 766 Protection Action Committee, which is spearheading the ongoing indefinite stir against restrictions on NH 766, said that though the Moolankavu-Begur bypass was a good option, it would require massive felling of trees.

However, Razak said strengthening NH-275 and SH-90 (Kutta-Gonikoppa) route will also require massive felling of trees in ecologically fragile areas. It is estimated that about 650 hectares of land, including 95 hectares of forest and tiger reserve, need to be acquired for strengthening this route.

He said that the proposed Moolankavu-Begur bypass will reduce the distance for inter-state vehicles and hence, there will be considerable reduction in fuel consumption as well as a drop in pollution in the long run.

Wayanad Nature Protection Group president N Badusha, who also favours the Moolankavu-Begur bypass, said restricting traffic along NH 766 passing through Bandipur will also facilitate risk-free daytime movement of elephants to the Nugu river that flows parallel to the existing road.

The indefinite hunger strike by the NH 766 Protection Action Committee at Sulthan Bathery, that reached the eighth day on Wednesday, was gaining momentum with more groups extending support.

Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi is likely to come down this week to express solidarity with the protestors.


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