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Assam argues against ban

Guwahati, March 26: The Assam government has informed the National Green Tribunal that a complete ban on movement of vehicles twice a day on the stretch of National Highway 37 that runs along the boundary of Kaziranga National Park would cause innumerable problems.

Besides, it would be tantamount to depriving people of their fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution, it added.

The tribunal, headed by Swatanter Kumar, had directed on March 20 that no traffic would be permitted on six sections of NH 37, identified by the National Tiger Conservation Authority as animal corridors, during the peak animal activity hours, between 5am and 7am and from 4pm to 7pm, every day. The corridors are Kanchanjuri-Burapahar (4km), East Haldibari-Bagori (2.82km), Borjuri-Panbari (4.40km), Burapahar-Deosur Nala (2.5km), Amguri East (300m), Amguri West (1km) and a canopy for gibbon crossing near Kukrakata.

In an affidavit placed before the tribunal today, the government said, “The Assam government is conscious of protection of animals in the Kaziranga area and the same may be harmonised without jeopardising the basic fundamental rights enjoyed by the citizens of the country.”

The government said the ministry of environment and forests had recommended only regulating traffic and not a blanket ban on vehicular traffic for any period.

The tribunal has fixed March 31 as the next date of hearing.

NH 37 is the lifeline of people not only of towns and villages along the highway stretch but also of the entire population of Upper Assam and adjoining states like Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. “Stopping of traffic will lead to a pile-up of thousands of vehicles on the road running along the boundary of the park to detrimental effect. There is no parking space except the road itself. By the time the traffic snarls ease, the next period of traffic closure will start, leading to total chaos which would affect wild animals and day-to-day lives of people,” the government said.

It said the move might attract encroachment, poaching and pollution, which would have a detrimental effect on wildlife. Besides, it would infringe upon democratic rights, especially during elections, and the election process would be hindered, it added.

The government said the step would act as a death knell for the tourism industry. “Tourism in Kaziranga revolves around safaris in the morning and evening. With the ban on traffic in the identified animal corridors during stipulated hours, tourist movement will be hindered. The people around Kaziranga will lose their livelihood and the economy of the state will be adversely affected,” it said.

The government assured the tribunal that it would manage the traffic load and movement of commercial goods carrier at a safe speed during the two specified periods.

“Interceptor vehicles fitted with speed guns will be deployed by the transport department very soon to control speed on the highway,” it said. The transport department has already acquired breathalysers, which will be installed on NH 37.