Congress leader and Member of Parliament from the Wayanad constituency, Rahul Gandhi, reached his constituency on Friday morning to show solidarity with the ongoing massive protests against the night traffic ban on a national highway passing through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Kerala. Gandhi met the youth leaders who have been on a hunger strike and showed strong support. The National Highway (NH) 776, which cuts through the forest area, has been banned between 9 pm and 6 am to avoid animal casualties.
Wayanad has been witnessing protests against the night travel ban since the past decade. Gandhi had earlier tweeted in support of the protests and the youth leaders who have been on a hunger strike since September 25. He said that he stands in solidarity with the protesters as the nine-hour traffic ban has caused immense hardship to lakhs of people in Kerala and Karnataka. Following Rahul Gandhi's support, the locals of Wayanad intensified the protest by taking out a march demanding the lifting of the night ban.
In 2009, the Karnataka High Court issued an order imposing a ban on the NH 776 to avoid wild animal casualties as the national highway cuts through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. The order agitated several people of Wayanad as the move increased the travel time abundantly. Recently, the Supreme Court also sought a report on possibilities of complete closure of the route, after an alternative Kutta Gonikuppa road was upgraded. However, the locals protested against the move as they stated that farmers would be the worst hit as they would not be able to transport their produce within the stipulated time.
Last week, locals and representatives of the youth wings of all political parties, including the Youth Congress, Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), Youth League and Yuva Morcha, went on a hunger strike demanding the lifting of the night traffic ban. The locals also proposed the construction of an elevated highway that would ensure the safety and protection of wild animals while not increasing their travel time. The distance between Bathery and Mysuru, which is currently 98 km, would increase to 217 km with the alternative route proposed.