Gujarat’s cyclone resilient power project brings hope for Great Indian Bustards
Union home minister, Shri Amit Shah, while inspecting the areas impacted by the cyclone in Kutch, suggested burying the power lines underground
The Gujarat government has finalised plans to bury the overhead power lines underground in the coastal regions following the power disruption and infrastructure damage in Saurashtra and Kutch by two giant cyclones Tauktae and Biparjoy in the last two years. This ambitious project is expected to span a decade for an estimated cost of around ₹25,000 crore and will also cover regions within the Kutch Great Indian Bustard sanctuary, aligning with a Supreme Court ruling that had mandated these lines to be placed underground, said three officials close to the development.
“Historically, the east coast experienced a higher frequency of cyclonic events; however, in the recent period, potentially attributed to climate change phenomena, the west coast, particularly Gujarat, has been significantly affected by intense cyclonic storms. This year witnessed the formidable Cyclone Biparjoy, which led to widespread power outages and considerable damage to infrastructure,” said Jai Prakash Shivhare, the managing director of Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd (GUVNL), a government agency responsible for power generation, supply, and distribution.
“While inspecting the areas impacted by the cyclone in Kutch, the Union home minister, Shri Amit Shah, suggested burying power lines underground and assured support from the central government. Subsequently, the Gujarat government has given the green light to this project, with plans to commence it in the near future,” Shivhare told HT.
He further added that the initial phase of this project will focus on a 20-kilometre stretch within the cyclone-affected territories of Gujarat.
“Gujarat being a coastal state, it is the need of the time to have a plan in place for building Cyclone Resilient Electricity Distribution infrastructure,” said an official at Paschim Gujarat Vij Company Ltd (PGVCL).
A subsidiary of GUVNL, PGVCL is the largest electricity distribution company of Gujarat situated at the Arabian Sea covering a major part of this coastal belt and has been the victim of very severe cyclones in the past few years.
“PGVCL is set to launch the project to convert the current overhead 11 KV and LT Distribution Network, including service connections, into an underground cable network, in multiple towns located within a 20 KM radius of the coastal area. The project will be implemented in phases, as part of various schemes such as the Rural Distribution System Strengthening (RDSS) scheme, he added.
Later, a further stretch upto 50 kilometre of cyclone impacted areas will be taken up for underground cable project.
PGVCL’s distribution network was affected by cyclones four times in the last five years with a very severe Cyclone Taukte hit the PGVCL’s southern jurisdiction in May 2020, and recently, in Jun-2023, a very severe Cyclone “BiparJoy” hitting the west and North part of the PGVCL.
Biparjoy left a trail of destruction in Kutch, with a preliminary survey by government showing that the state’s electricity infrastructure suffered a loss of ₹783 crore due to Biparjoy, while power outages were reported in 6,486 villages after the cyclone made landfall on June 15. It took days to restore electricity in these areas with more than 5,000 electricity poles uprooted and about 100 substations damaged.
Due to proactive disaster management planning and the successful evacuation of nearly 1 lakh people from vulnerable areas prior to the cyclone’s landfall, the state government said that there was no loss of human life.
“The benefits of having Cyclone Resilient Power Network are immense. It helps limit or eliminate the loss of revenue due to Cyclone, limits diversion of manpower for the damaged network restoration work, is less liable to damage through storms or lighting, has minimum chances of faults and less maintenance cost, and improves quality and reliability of the power, improves visibility of the area based infrastructure, looks aesthetically beautiful and most importantly provides robust and more safe power network,” said the UGVCL official.
Safeguarding the GIB
The landfall point of Biparjoy was close to Jhakhau port, less than two kilometres away from the GIB habitat in Gujarat. A senior forest official and two officials from the state’s energy department confirmed that the power cables in the area will go underground as part of the government’s cyclone resilient infrastructure project.
There are four GIBs in the habitat, all of them being females. Soon after the cyclone, there was a buzz about the GIBs missing but the forest officials said that all four were found safe. Since 2018 no male bustards have been reported in Kutch.
In response to a PIL filed by Dr M K Ranjitsinh Jhala and other experts, the Supreme Court passed an order on April 19, 2021 to take the power lines underground for the protection of GIB in the priority and potential habitat of Kutch, Gujarat and Rajasthan, and until it is done install diverters on all powerlines.
The state power transmission company, Gujarat Energy Transmission Corporation Ltd, has installed thousands of bird diverters and reflectors in Kutch to avoid collision with the power cables, said an official.
The GIB is a critically endangered bird with its last viable breeding population in India. Less than 100 of these magnificent grassland birds remain in the world, according to conservation experts.
Though habitat loss and degradation have been responsible for this bird’s decline in the past few decades, their deaths due to collision with overhead power lines for renewable energy generation, especially windmills, have been the biggest direct threat.
The SC order covers Abdasa and Mandvi taluka in Kutch district of Gujarat and parts of Rajasthan.
The GIB named ‘Gibi’ was the mascot for the 13th Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), in Gandhinagar in February 2020.
The CMS is an environmental treaty agreed under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme. The Government of India had moved a proposal in February 2020 at the COP-CMS convention in Gujarat for the inclusion of GIBs in Appendix 1. Once this is done, CMS parties, which include more than 124 countries, strive to protect the species. This covers actions such as conserving or restoring the places where they live, mitigating obstacles to migration, and controlling other factors that might endanger them.
The GIB habitat in Kutch is also a part of the Central Asian Flyway route of migration and a large number of migratory species are sighted here during winters.
Abdasa, which houses the GIB Sanctuary, is the only place in India where all three species of bustards including Asian Houbara, GIB and Lesser Florican can be seen in the same habitat during different seasons.
A collaborative research work of The Corbett Foundation and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) showed that nearly 30,000 birds of different species die due to collision with power lines annually in Abdasa taluka of Kutch district alone.
The WII also estimates that over 1 lakh birds are killed annually in Rajasthan’s Thar due to collisions with overhead powerlines. Also, a 2021 study by WII estimated that 18 GIBs die each year due to collision with power lines in Thar. A Central government-backed captive breeding programme is also implemented in Rajasthan.
A wildlife expert, who preferred to remain anonymous, stated, “The Gujarat government has yet to initiate the underground placement of power cables as directed by the Supreme Court. However, we hold hope that the energy department’s project for a cyclone-resilient power network in the state will fulfil this objective.”