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Centre assures Kerala on panel to study Bandipur traffic ban


New Delhi/Wayanad: The Centre on Tuesday assured Kerala that a committee would be set up to study the night traffic ban on the national highway passing through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka, as thousands of students took out a rally in Wayanad demanding lifting the curb.

Four youths, belonging to various political parties, are on a relay hunger strike, which entered the seventh day on Tuesday, against the restriction.

The centre's assurance to Kerala came when Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan met Environment minister Prakash Javadekar in Delhi this morning.

Congress leader and Wayanad MP, Rahul Gandhi, also met Vijayan at Kerala House and apprised him of the hardships faced by people of his Lok Sabha constituency due to the ban and also submitted a memorandum.

Gandhi, who is visiting Wayanad on October 3, will meet the fasting youths to express solidarity with them, congress sources said.

"This is a very important matter and it needs to be tackled.

The chief minister assured us they are apprised of the situation and are trying to resolve it," Gandhi told reporters, adding the issue was causing a lot of pain to the people of his constituency and Kerala.

Javadekar assured Vijayan that a committee would be formed to to study the night ban.

Vijayan, who met the media after his meetings with various union ministers, said the people of Wayanad are against the night travel ban through the forest.

He also said Javadekar had informed him that there were limitations for the centre to intervene in the matter as the apex court had upheld the ban.

"People in Wayanad are against the traffic ban through the park,"  the chief minister said.

It has been suggested to convert the alternative route through Tholpetty-Nagarhole state highway into a National Highway. "This route also goes through the forest," he said.

Vijayan pointed out there was huge protest against the travel ban in Wayanad on Tuesday and he had informed Javadekar about the people's opposition to the restriction.

"The minister said a committee will be appointed to study the issue and he would ask them to submit their report as soon a possible. The State government will inform the committee about its stand," Vijayan said.

Meanwhile, the indefinite relay fast by the activists of the 'samara samithi', who are members of various youth organisations, entered the seventh day on Tuesday.

Thousands of school and college students took out a march at Sultan Bathery expressing solidarity with the plea to lift the ban on night traffic through the National Highway running through the Bandipur Tiger sanctuary in neighbouring Karnataka.

Holding placards and raising slogans, the students marched through the town bringing traffic to a halt.

Children from neighbouring villages in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka also participated, the organisers claimed.

On Monday, around 1,000 farmers and local people, including women, had participated in the march from nearby Sultan Bathery to the Kerala-Karnataka border at Moolahalli demanding round the clock connectivity through the national highway passing through the reserve.

The movement of traffic through the tiger reserve is banned from 9 pm to 6 am to reduce disturbance to wildlife.

Vijayan had suggested construction of an elevated stretch through the core critical tiger habitat.

However, Javadekar, in a letter to Vijayan this month, had stated that the state's recommendations had been discussed at the committee of Secretaries and it was recommeded to maintain status quo on restriction of night time traffic through the Tiger reserve and strengthen the alternative route already available for night time traffic.

The minister also stated that the alternative route, though passing through forest area, was not a 'Critical Tiger Habitat' and can be suitably mitigated.

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