While going through a petition seeking the lifting of night traffic regulations on the Bandipur National Park stretch of Kozhikode-Kollegal National Highway 766, the Supreme Court made a chance observation that an alternative route be explored, facilitating permanent closure of the national park stretch. This evoked huge protests in the northern hill district of Wayanad in Kerala—the largest protest the district has ever witnessed. True this: devoid of any rail link and located close to Mysore in Karnataka and Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu and accessible from the rest of Kerala only through ghat roads, it is a lifeline for Wayanad.
A hunger strike was organised in Sulthan Bathery Town by various youth organisations with the backing of all major political parties and Rahul Gandhi flew down from Delhi to express his solidarity. Thousands took part in the mega rallies held in various parts of the district. The protestors shouted slogans against a few local environmentalists, who according to them, had tried to mislead the Supreme Court and its learned judges. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan rushed to Delhi to seek the intervention of the Centre in convincing the Supreme Court about the implications of such a ban on the hill district, affecting tourism and normal life.
Though the hunger strike was called off following assurances from the Centre and Karnataka that no plan for permanent closure of the route was under consideration, the real issue continues to remain unaddressed. At one level, a few self-proclaimed environmentalists with unrealistic goals are making the issue complex by engaging in a prolonged process of litigation. They seek more travel regulations on the route without factoring in that the road had existed for centuries facilitating trade, commerce and other interactions between the Kannadigas and the Malayalis.