Wayanad is once against caught in turmoil with the anxiety that the blanket traffic ban through Bandipur forest will close the doors of smooth travel and thereby the livelihood of people. Over a week, Sultan Bathery area has been in the thick of strikes and protest. The agitation launched to restore transport through National Highway 766, is intensifying with the people of Malabar and also of Tamil and Karnataka that share the border with Wayanad.
What sparked the flame of the strike was the interventions of Supreme Court during the hearing of the case file against the ban on night traffic. The Supreme Court sought the opinion of the parties, including the central and state governments, about imposing the ban of daytime traffic also. In addition the court also asked for a report from the central Ministry of Environment about elevating the Manantavady-Kutta-Gonickoppal road to national highway status. With this, the apprehension about a total ban being imposed on travel along NH 766 thickened and it pushed the entire people cutting across political parties to the path of agitation.
The ban on night traffic through the Bandipur forest area was slapped by the then district collector of Chamarajanagar, Karnataka on 14 June 2009, on the grounds that vehicular traffic through that patch would endanger the unhindered movement and lives of wild animals. That triggered huge protests in Kerala which led to the state government intervening in the matter and getting Karnataka state government to have the order withdrawn. But later, following petitions raised by environmental organizations, Karnataka high court ratified the action of the collector and reinstated the ban on night travel. Now in the case filed against this in Supreme Court, there have been contradictions between the stances of central environment ministry and forest department; and Karnataka government has been observing neutrality on the issue.
Kerala has also been facing flak for failing to convince the court of the feelings of the people. It is admist such criticisms that the court intervenes in a way that gives credence to the concern that the judgement may be a jolt to Kerala. Although the chief minister has, in due recognition of the urgent importance of the matter, talked with the central environment ministry, the signals emanating about central response do not raise hopes about a permanent solution. Wayanad's MP Rahul Gandhi has also entered the scene batting for free travel. However, in order to clinch a deal, both ministries of the central and the states of Kerala and Karnataka should jointly take a position before the Supreme Court. The government of Kerala and the various political parties of the state should be ready to take the initiative for such a collective stance.
In the contradiction of stances on resolving the traffic from Wayanad to Mysuru between governments, the loser is the rights of the people of Wayanad. Kerala chief minister has already made it clear to the central environment ministry that the proposed Kutta-Gundlupet route is not a solution. For, even that route passes through Bandipur. If the Supreme Court ratifies the current ban, it will be applicable to that alternate track as well. The flyover bridge proposal put forward by the surface transport secretary YS Malik has already been dismissed by minister Nitin Gadkari.
Therefore things have come to a situation in which for a resolution of jouorney from Mysuru to Wayanad, the central ministries of environment and surface transport , and the governments of Kerala and Karnataka should sit together without losing time. The issues among these parties have to be ironed out and a single answer arrived at as response to the enquiry of Supreme Court about alternate means. It appears that Karnataka government will shed its apathy only if it develops into a life and death issue of the people of Karnataka. But it is a fact that if all access to Wayanad is closed, the people thrown into a crisis will be the farmers of Gun dlupet and the border districts, and the traders in Mandhya and Mysuru. And it would not be easy for the people in Kerala-Karnataka border to avert the damage to their employment and development inflicted by the total traffic ban.
In summary, the crisis faced by Malabar and Wayanad region is that of a stalemate through loss of the vital transport corridor that used to take them with ease to Mysuru and Bengaluru which has existed for centuries. There is no doubt that the life of wild animals and the virginity of the forest region need to be protected. Then it becomes incumbent on the governments to contemplate on, and come up with alternate channels that also protect wild life and forest. A study is also essential on how unhindered travel is made possible in the forest region of different countries of the world, at the same time environmental restrictions are honoured. By spending a little extra, we should also be able to adopt for the 19 kilomters in Bandipur the transport methods in forest regions in such countries. All that is needed is a will and determination of governments – which the people of Malabar and of Karnataka's border demand. And most importantly, that should happen before the Supreme Court's hearing posted for 14 October.