Thiruvananthapuram: A hunger strike in Wayanad that began on September 25 demanding lifting of night travel ban on National Highway-766 entered its eight day on Wednesday. The highway connects the district in Kerala to Mysuru in Karnataka and passes through the Bandipur Tiger Reserve.
Following an order of the Karnataka High Court, the stretch has remained closed for night traffic for the past 10 years to avoid wild animal casualties. The Supreme Court recently had sought a report on the possibilities of a complete closure of the route after upgrading the alternative Kutta Gonikuppa road.
This has angered the people of Wayanad, especially those from Bathery town, as any such move would increase the travel time manifold. Locals say farmers would be the worst hit as they would not be able to transport their produce within the stipulated time.
Locals are demanding the construction of an elevated highway that would ensure the protection of wild animals while also not hampering their travel time. Currently, the distance between Bathery and Mysuru is 98 km. The proposed alternative route would increase the distance to 217 km.
Protesters say while hundreds of students also use this route on a daily basis, the tourism industry would be badly affected by the proposed ban. With the protests intensifying, 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 last week.
While thousands of locals from all walks of life have extended their support to the protest, local MP and former Congress president Rahul Gandhi will meet the agitators at Bathery on Friday.
Gandhi last week put out a tweet extending support to the hunger strike. "I stand in solidarity with the youth on an indefinite hunger strike since September 25th protesting against the daily nine-hour traffic ban on NH-766 that has caused immense hardship to lakhs of people in Kerala and Karnataka," he said.
I stand in solidarity with the youth on an indefinite hunger strike since September 25th protesting against the daily 9 hour traffic ban on NH-766 that has caused immense hardship to lakhs of people in Kerala and Karnataka.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) September 29, 2019
Representatives of an action committee, led by Wayanad MLA IC Balakrishnan, has already met Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar in this regard. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had also earlier spoken to Javadekar.
Suresh Thaloor, convenor of the action committee, said, "Closure of this route will be like choking an entire district and affecting the movement of about 7 lakh people."
Members of the committee will meet on Thursday to discuss the further course of action.