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The Hindu explains: from Shah Faesal to construction plan in Bandipur

Why the confusion over construction plan in Bandipur?

January 19, 2019 09:35 pm | Updated 09:35 pm IST

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has opposed a proposal to construct elevated roads over the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. The proposal had triggered outrage and protests from NGOs. The tiger reserve, spread over nearly 912 sq km, is located in Chamarajanagar district of Karnataka, constitutes an important component of a forest landscape comprising Nagarahole (Karnataka), Mudumalai and Sathyamangalam (Tamil Nadu) and Wayanad (Kerala). The tiger reserve is home to nearly 120 to 150 tigers as per the 2014 estimates made by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). Bandipur also supports nearly 1,600 elephants, according to a 2012 count by the Karnataka Forest Department. Conservationists feel any infrastructure project through the forests is bound to impact the wildlife habitat and should be dropped. But there are supporters of the project who want the night traffic ban lifted. The matter is pending before the Supreme Court.

What does the view signify?

In a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Environment Mahesh Sharma said the Ministry had not concurred with the proposal for elevated roads, but supported strengthening of the alternative route. While wildlife activists have welcomed the statement, they have underlined the contradictory stance of the government. Conservation biologist Sanjay Gubbi argued that different Ministries were holding divergent views. While the MoEF& CC was against the project in principle, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways was for it. “In case the Centre was against the elevated road, the MoRTH, which has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on September 19, 2018, in support of the project, should be made to withdraw the affidavit and respect the views of the Ministry of Environment on forest issues,” he said.

Why was the project proposed?

The ban on traffic through Bandipur, located 80 km from Mysuru in Karnataka, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. was introduced on the directives of the High Court of Karnataka to reduce disturbance to wildlife and curb road kills. It has been in place since 2009. But the ban evoked opposition from a section of stakeholders, including the Kerala government which challenged the High Court order in the Supreme Court on the grounds that it was impeding economic growth of the region. The Supreme Court constituted a committee to examine the disputes between Karnataka and Kerala. In an affidavit, the MoRTH, which was part of the committee, proposed construction of elevated highways: five sections of 1 km each (four in Bandipur and one in the Wayanad sanctuary).

Why is it being opposed?

Activists have argued that such projects are prohibited under the final notification of the Eco-Sensitize Zone for Bandipur issued in September 2011 based on the Environment Protection Rules, 1986. The guidelines make it clear that in the areas of threatened taxa, there should not be infrastructure development, and since Bandipur is a source habitat for tigers, flyovers cannot be constructed, said Mr. Gubbi. Wildlife activist Santosh Pavagada pointed out that the Centre had also ignored the Tiger Conservation Plan (TCP) for Bandipur, which was prepared under Section 38V(3) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and it had recommended night closure of highways passing through the tiger reserve.

What is the State’s view ?

The Chief Conservator of Forests and Director of Bandipur, Ambadi Madhav, said the State government was consistent in opposing the project and developed an alternative road that bypassed the core forest area. The State has spent over ₹75 crore to develop an alternative road (SH-90) through Hunsur, Gonikoppa, Kutta and Kartikulam and another stretch between Konanur and Makutta and Madikeri and Kutta that links northern Kerala. The detour is 30 km longer. The Board for Wildlife has exempted ambulance and fire-service vehicles from the ban and 16 State transport buses are allowed to pass through at night.

Krishna Kumar

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