The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has written to the Karnataka government seeking its consent to lift the ban on night traffic on National Highway 766 passing through Bandipur National Park. Traffic is banned on the highway between 9 pm and 6 am to avoid road kills and to reduce disturbance to wildlife.

The ministry has argued that using an alternative route because of the ban on night traffic on NH 766 results in “avoidable consumption of fuel” and is a “huge import burden for the country”, reported The Hindu.

In a letter to the Karnataka Chief Secretary on July 21, the ministry recommends widening the existing right of way width of 10 metres to 15 metres to a uniform 15 metres, creating five elevated stretches of 1 km each and installing steel-wired 8-feet high fencing on both sides of the road, reported The Indian Express. The existing road under the proposed elevated sections would be milled to convert it into forest landscape to ease the movement of animals. Ecologists say such “extensive construction” would be disruptive.

The letter seeks the state government’s consent for the proposal immediately so that it could be submitted to the Supreme Court. The tentative cost of the proposed project has been pegged at Rs 460 crore, according to The Hindu.

The Karnataka forest department has opposed any move to lift the night traffic ban and does not favour measures like flyovers or underpasses. “The chief minister has assured that night closure in Bandipur will continue and the state government opposes the Centre’s suggestion of going in for mitigation measures at NH-212 [NH 766] in Bandipur,” an unidentified senior forest official told The New Indian Express.

Traffic ban on NH 766

The Karnataka High Court in 2009 banned night traffic on two national highways – NH 67 and NH 212 – linking Karnataka with Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The highways cut through the Bandipur tiger reserve. An alternative road, longer by 30 km, was developed to divert traffic on NH 212 traffic.

Kerala has been pushing to remove the restriction on NH 212 for economic reasons, reported The Indian Express.

In January this year, the Supreme Court set up a committee under the Secretary of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, with a representative from the state governments of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and the National Tiger Conservation Authority to look into the matter and submit a report within three months.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority in March recommended maintaining the night ban. In April, Karnataka also wrote to the ministry that the state’s stand was to “continue with the existing restrictions” and that Tamil Nadu had also accepted the present arrangement. Tamil Nadu has a similar traffic ban in its Mudumalai reserve.