As the hunger strike, against the night traffic ban on National Highway (NH) 766 that passes through Bandipur Tiger Reserve linking Kerala and Karnataka, at Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad, entered its 10th day on Friday (October 4), Congress leader Rahul Gandhi joined the protest to express his solidarity.
Referring to the protest, Rahul said, “They represent the suffering of the people here. All political parties are united as far as the night travel ban issue is concerned. There is no political difference on this. The issue has to be resolved in an intelligent and productive way. A solution can be reached where the people of Wayanad benefit and the environment also benefits. It has been done in other parts of the country and I am sure it can be done in Wayanad also.”
Promising the protesters legal help in the matter he said, “I have spoken to our legal experts to deal with this issue. We will have the best legal resource of this country for the cause of Wayanad. I wanted you to know that I stand with you and we are going to go intelligently and sensitively work on this matter.”
Wayanad, which the Gandhi scion represents in the Lok Sabha, has been witnessing protests over the ban that is in force between 9 pm and 6 am since (September 25). Protesters contend that the ban, apart from affecting tourism, health, trade and business, will hit the Karnataka labourers hard as that is the main route for them to reach Kerala.
I am in Wayanad, Kerala to stand in solidarity with the youth who have been on hunger strike, protesting against the travel ban on National Highway 766. Earlier I visited those who have had to be hospitalised, as a result of the prolonged fast. pic.twitter.com/eVqbHWMZJG
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) October 4, 2019
The protest is backed by the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the Youth Congress and the Youth League in Kerala.
On Tuesday (October 1), Rahul Gandhi had met the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in New Delhi to discuss the issues arising out of the night ban. Pinarayi had apparently told him that he would hold talks with the Centre and resolve the crisis.
The Kerala government has suggested construction of an elevated stretch through the core area of the tiger reserve. However, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar in a letter to Vijayan last month stated that the state’s recommendation had been discussed and it was suggested that “status quo” be maintained.
On June 3, 2009, Manoj Kumar Meena, district collector of Chamarajnagar in Karnataka passed a ban on night traffic through the NH 766 and NH 67 (Gundlupet-Ooty Road), both passing through the Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary.
On August 7, 2019, the Supreme Court directed the extension of this overnight traffic ban on the National Highway from 9 pm to 6 am, running through the core area of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. The bench consisting of Justices Rohington Nariman and Surya Kant also asked the Centre to come up with a solution to keep the endangered species away from harm and highway accidents.
(With inputs from agencies)