Honourable Supreme Court of India orders to place underground power lines for the conservation of Great Indian Bustard
April 22, 2021
Honourable Supreme Court of India orders to place underground power lines for the conservation of Great Indian Bustar
Image composite copyright: Devesh Gadhavi
April 18th is celebrated as the ‘World Heritage Day’ to understand the importance of our heritage and safeguard it. According to the Constitution of India, our forests and its wildlife are also our ‘Natural Heritage’, and it is our moral responsibility to preserve them. In the year 2013, the Honourable Prime Minister of India Shri. Narendra Modi (the then Chief Minister of Gujarat) had said during his visit to the Kutch District that ‘the Great Indian Bustard is a unique gift of nature to Kutch district and Government of Gujarat is committed to its protection’.
Ironically, between the years 2013 to 2021, the population of Great Indian Bustard (GIB) declined speedily in Kutch, the only place in Gujarat where GIBs survive today. The two documented deaths of GIBs between 2014 and 2018 due to the collision with the overhead power lines proved beyond any doubt the severity of the threat these power lines pose to the safety of these critically endangered species that is found only in India and certain areas of Pakistan. Since 2018, there is no trace of male GIBs in Kutch and this is a matter of grave concern. Research studies by the Wildlife Institute of India have shown that nearly 18 GIBs are estimated to be dying every year due to collision with power lines in Thar, Rajasthan. With around 100 GIBs surviving in India, and most in Rajasthan’s Thar landscape, the threat of power line collision if not mitigated immediately would take this magnificent bird to the path of extinction.
Given such a dire situation of the bird, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court of India by Dr. M. K. Ranjitsinh, former bureaucrat and the architect of India’s Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, Shri. Piraram Bishnoi, Shri. Navinbhai Bapat, Shri. Santosh Martin and The Corbett Foundation. In this PIL, the petitioners have requested the Hon’ble Supreme Court to take necessary decisions for the conservation of GIB (and Lesser Florican) in the country. The power lines passing through the bustard habitat are a proven fatal threat to the GIB, and it is also one of the prime reasons behind the steep decline in the GIB population in the past decade. To protect the species from such a threat, the petitioners have requested undergrounding of these power lines in critical bustard habitats and installing bird diverters on all power lines in semi-critical habitats. Apart from this, habitat protection and its proper management, control over the disturbance caused by free-ranging dogs and other predators, the conservation breeding programme of GIB and a stop on any further development/expansion of wind farms and solar parks in the bustard habitat have also been requested. Even the local people of Kutch and Rajasthan have repeatedly complained about the threat these power lines pose to various other bird species in addition to the GIB.
On April 19, 2021, the Hon’ble Supreme Court passed an order on the above-mentioned PIL to place underground all the power lines passing through the identified GIB habitats in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Also, the Supreme Court clearly gave a timeline of one year to complete the work mentioned above. It also ordered that all the future power lines must go underground in the areas identified in the order. The court has also ordered the installation of bird-diverters on the power lines till they are made underground so that the birds can see the cables from a distance and avoid colliding with them. For power lines that cannot be laid underground due to technical reasons, installation of bird diverters have been made mandatory.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court stated in this order dated April 19th that GIB is on the verge of extinction, and it is necessary to take this action for the conservation of this endangered species. In response to this PIL, the Ministry of Power had stated that the low voltage lines (66 kV and below, as per the affidavit filed by Power Ministry) could be easily underground while the high voltage lines (130 kV and above, as per the affidavit filed by Power Ministry) are slightly difficult and expensive to be made underground. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has also stated in its judgments that undergrounding of high voltage lines (130 kV and above, as per the affidavit filed by Power Ministry) may be difficult but not impossible. With this, the Supreme Court has ordered for the undergrounding of all the low-voltage lines (66 kV and below, as per the affidavit filed by Power Ministry) in the identified GIB areas with immediate effect and within a maximum time period of one year. Besides, a 3-member committee has been formed to monitor and instruct on how and where to underground the high-voltage lines (130 kV and above, as per the affidavit filed by Power Ministry), till then the bird-diverters should be installed on such lines with immediate effect. Dr. Rahul Rawat, Scientist at Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Dr. Sutirtha Dutta, Scientist at Wildlife Institute of India, and Mr. Devesh Gadhavi, Scientist and Deputy Director of The Corbett Foundation, have been appointed as the Members of this Committee.
The above decision was taken by the bench of Shri Sharad Bobde, Chief Justice of India, along with Justice Shri. A. S. Bopanna and Justice Shri. V. Ramasubramanian.
To download the Supreme Court order, click the below link
SC order on powerlines 19 April 2021