Minister of State for Environment, Forest Mahesh Sharma said this while responding to an unstarred question at Rajya Sabha on Monday.
In a relief to the wildlife activists and environmentalists, the Centre has said that it will not take up the project of constructing elevated corridors in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. This comes three days after the Karnataka government opposed the move at the Supreme Court, citing the potential harm to Asiatic elephants, tigers and other wildlife animals.
In March 2018, the National Tiger Conservation Authority had already advised the Centre not to go ahead with the project since it could harm the habitat of more than 100 tigers and many wild animals. And on Monday, Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Mahesh Sharma laid the matter to rest at the Rajya Sabha while answering an unstarred question by Janata Dal (United) MP from Kerala, Veerendra Kumar.
The Kerala MP asked about the Centre’s stance on building an elevated road over the forest to overcome the ban on night travel in the stretch.
Responding to this, the Minister said, “The government of Karnataka had opposed construction of the road or lifting of the nine-hour night traffic ban on NH-212, which passes through Bandipur Tiger Reserve. In fact, we have suggested strengthening the alternative route passing through Thithimathi-Gonikoppa-Kutta.”
The proposal to build four elevated corridors, each 1-km long, on National Highway 766 by the National Highway Authority of India as part of the Bharatmala project had united activists under the banner of ‘Save Bandipur’. They held multiple protests against the move.
In August 2018, the activists were first alarmed after a communication between the Ministry of Road and Transport Secretary YS Malik and the Karnataka Chief Secretary was leaked. The letter spoke about how Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and PWD Minister HD Revanna had verbally agreed to the project during a meeting with Union Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari.
The activists also opposed the proposed reversal of night traffic ban (9 pm-6 am) on the 25 km stretch of National Highway 212 in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve corridor and petitioned Gadkari and Kumaraswamy.
The existing traffic ban has been in effect since 2009 when the Karnataka High Court banned traffic flow after dark while hearing a case pertaining to roadkills, where at least 215 animals were being run over between 2004 and 2007.
For the night, commuters currently use a 30-km detour of the Hunsur-Gonikoppa-Kutta-Mananthavady Road.