In 2010, the Karnataka High Court banned traffic between 9 pm and 6 am through National Highway (NH) 212 that cuts through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. The court’s order drew on evidence provided by ecologists which showed that speeding vehicles on the highway were taking a toll on the reserve’s animals, including tigers, elephants and several endangered species. This ban could end soon if the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has its way. It has written to the Karnataka government to send its “consent immediately” for widening the road and removing restrictions on vehicular movement on it. That would be unfortunate.
With more than 100 tigers in 874 sq km, Bandipur is among the success stories of conservation in the country. The reserve is also home to 1,800 elephants. However, the hit and run cases on NH 212 threatened to mar the reserve’s successes in the early years of this century. The situation took a grave turn between 2004 and 2007 when more than 200 animals were run over by vehicles. In 2009, the Karnataka Forest Department invoked the Motor Vehicles Act to ban night time traffic on the highway. The ban was, however, withdrawn less than five days later under directions issued by the Deputy Commissioner of Chamrajnagar — Bandipur is located in this district. This order was challenged by environmentalists in the Karnataka High Court. The court cited ecological studies to rule in favour of the ban. “The continued night traffic around the year… will have a long-term impact on the animal population and will affect the life cycle of these species,” it pointed out.
Records of the Bandipur Reserve attest to the success of the ban. Road kills have dropped by nearly six times after it was imposed. Neighbouring Tamil Nadu has imposed a similar measure in the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary. But the Kerala government has contested the restriction on the movement of vehicles on NH 212 in the SC on grounds that it inconveniences those traveling from Wayanad to Karnataka, and hurts the state’s economic development. This seems a classic case of environment vs development. However, the Karnataka High Court order does offer a middle path. It talks of sprucing up an alternate road to the standards of NH 212 to take care of Kerala’s concerns. The National Tiger Conservation Authority, when asked by the SC, has also spoken in favour of such a solution. The apex court will hear the matter on August 8. It is unfortunate that instead of letting the matter play out in the SC, the Centre has pushed for withdrawing a ban that seems to have worked.