CEA regulations violate SC rules: Activists on Great Indian Bustards' protection | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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CEA regulations violate SC rules: Activists on Great Indian Bustards' protection

ByJayashree Nandi, New Delhi
Mar 08, 2023 04:19 AM IST

The authority’s draft regulations, first reported by HT last week, allows all electricity transmission lines above 33 KV to go overhead, provided bird diverters are installed.

A proposal by a power regulator to lay overhead transmission lines through the habitat of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard has alarmed environmentalists, who have objected to the draft regulations by the Central Electricity Authority and are preparing to alert the Supreme Court on the move that could lead to extinction of the iconic bird.

The Great Indian Bustard is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. (File)
The Great Indian Bustard is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. (File)

The authority’s draft regulations, first reported by HT last week, allows all electricity transmission lines above 33 KV to go overhead, provided bird diverters are installed. These diverters supposedly improve visibility of the power lines for birds, reducing the risk of collision. Overhead power lines are the biggest threat to the survival of the Great Indian Bustard, according to the Wildlife Institute of India, an autonomous institution under the environment ministry.

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“We call on the CEA to withdraw these draft regulations, which appear to be an attempt to circumvent the orders of the SC and would be in violation of the same. If adopted, these regulations would be in violation of the same,” environmentalist and former bureaucrat MK Ranjitsinh said in his objections sent to CEA on March 3.

“These regulations would contribute to the extinction of a critically endangered species which is also the state bird of Rajasthan,” the note added. “This would be the second major species, after the cheetah, to have been rendered extinct after our Independence.”

The Great Indian Bustard is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world, about a metre in height and with a wingspan of around seven feet. It has disappeared from 90% of its habitat, except parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Less than 100 survive in the wild.

Also read: Flight risk | Inside the fight to save the great Indian bustard

Ranjitsinh and other environmentalists are petitioners in a 2019 public interest litigation in the Supreme Court on preventing the extinction of the Great Indian Bustard and the Lesser Florican, which is still being heard by the top court. The petition highlights that the primary threat to the big bird is collisions with high voltage power lines that crisscross their habitat in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The power lines range from 0.440 KV to 440 KV.

The proposal to lay overhead lines above 33 KV “falls foul of SC’s order and contradicts the wealth of material evidencing the feasibility of undergrounding power lines up to 400 KV, which was accepted by the SC and furnished by CEA to the Committee (appointed by SC consisting of two wildlife scientists and one scientist from the ministry of new and renewable energy),” the note pointed out.

The apex court passed two substantive orders on April 19, 2021, and April 21, 2022, which said no new overhead power lines will be laid in potential habitats of the Great Indian Bustard unless approved by the court-appointed committee.

All existing overhead low-voltage power lines in Great Indian Bustard habitats will have to be laid underground within one year of the order, the court had said. If the agency was not sure about the feasibility of undergrounding, the court-appointed committee will check the feasibility and recommend measures, it had said.

“These orders are being circumvented,” Ranjitsinh said. “We will also share our objections and suggestions to the draft regulations with the Supreme Court.”

Another major concern highlighted by Ranjitsinh is that specifications for bird diverters for overhead power lines being prescribed by the authority will not provide adequate warning to birds. Also, the draft rules provide CEA the power to relax certain provisions on a case by case basis. “The Authority may, by order and for reasons to be recorded in writing, relax any of provisions of these regulations in respect of the matters referred to the Authority on case-to-case basis,” the draft stated.

Ranjitsinh in his note said such a clause is arbitrary and takes away from Supreme Court’s provision of checking the feasibility of laying all power lines underground.

The last date for receiving public comments on the draft regulation was March 3. The power lines are critical for evacuation of solar power to the electricity grid, the CEA said.

The draft also appeared to be an attempt to sidestep a 2021 Supreme Court order that seeks to protect a species that may have well become India’s national bird, if not for concerns over misspelling its name.

More than 1 lakh birds of various species die due to collisions with power transmission lines, the wildlife Institute had said in a report in 2018. Its surveys in the Thar Desert covering 80km of power lines repeated seven times over a year found 289 carcasses of around 30 species, including a few of the Great Indian Bustard.

Also read: Guarding the great Indian bustard | Herders, farmers as a first line of defence

The Supreme Court agreed to consider an application filed by the Centre seeking modification of its order passed in 2021 directing undergrounding of power cables in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, HT had reported on February 2, 2022. Despite attempts, the CEA could not be reached for a comment.

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