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Balance preservation of Great Indian Bustard with India’s energy needs: SC

ByAbraham Thomas
Jan 19, 2024 07:06 PM IST

The GIB’s habitat covers the heritage districts of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur and parts of Bikaner and Barmer, areas crucial for developing renewable energy

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday said that it is conscious of government’s commitment to generate solar power while implementing steps to preserve the endangered bird specie, the Great Indian Bustard (GIB), and gave three weeks to the Centre to propose a way forward that can balance the twin issues.

The GIB is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in its Red List of threatened species. (File photo)
The GIB is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in its Red List of threatened species. (File photo)

Monitoring implementation of its earlier order of April 19, 2021 directing the installation of bird diverters and undergrounding of overhead transmission lines in areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan, where the bird is predominantly found, the Court questioned the efficacy of bird diverters and said that any order passed by Court should be “judicially manageable”. The order was passed in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by environment and wildlife activist MK Ranjitsinh and four others seeking measures to protect the GIB.

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A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud on Friday was confronted with applications filed by solar and wind energy producing companies who found the top court’s order to come in the way of setting up their business. Even the Centre conveyed to the Court practical difficulties and the enormous cost involved in implementing the decision.

“We are conscious that we are dealing with an issue involving development where India has to achieve alternate energy goals. Our order has to balance both interests,” said the bench, also comprising justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra.

The Court asked Attorney General R Venkataramani to propose a way forward by February 9, the next date of hearing in an order which said, “The AG states that a comprehensive status report will be filed indicating the various steps by the Union government for preservation of GIB and ensure solar power is made available, considering India’s commitment at the international level.”

The ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) had in the past filed an application to modifiy the April 19 judgment and had stated that it is “working towards achieving the target set by Government of India to install 1,75,000 MW (excluding large hydro) of renewable energy capacity by 2022 and further increase it to 4,50,000 MW by 2030.” Under the Paris Agreement, India is committed to achieve about 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030.

“The ball is now in your Court,” the bench told AG, adding, “Once the government states what the way forward can be, we will not be groping in the dark.” The top law officer agreed to file a comprehensive affidavit before the next hearing.

Also Read: CEA regulations violate SC rules: Activists on Great Indian Bustards’ protection

The solar energy producers represented by senior advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Mukul Rohatgi noted practical difficulties in implementing the Court’s order. “The entire area where the Court’s order is to operate has solar power generating units. There are high tension wires running overhead. Undergrounding of wires will require them to be joined at places which can be hazardous,” Singhvi said.

The Court said, “Anything we do must be judicially manageable. We don’t want to blame anyone but we are faced with a slew of applications while implementing our orders which is not feasible for us to manage. Do we have scientific study tracing deaths to transmission lines. Also, one has to be aware of practical realities as undergrounding will involve agricultural land.”

The associations of solar power generators and power developers in the region estimate that it would cost 55,000 crore to lay underground cables.

Even on bird diverters, Rohatgi pointed out that since these birds have low vision they tend to collide with the transmission lines. As directed by the Court, bird diverters have been installed along the overhead wires. “These diverters can be seen easily by these birds. But undergrounding of these lines is not feasible,” he said.

The Court wished to know if any credible study was conducted on how effective the bird diverters are to prevent further bird casualties. “We directed installation of bird diverters but we must be cognizant of what impact it is having on ground. Should we be spending public money on it without knowing its efficacy,” the Court remarked.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan who represented the petitioners informed the Court that despite all efforts by Centre and states, there was recently another death of a GIB due to collision. The Court enquired, “Has any government mandated study been done so far on as to what extent the bird diverters are efficacious.” While awaiting the Centre’s response, the bench said that the government could benefit by considering action taken by other countries such as UAE where these birds are found.

The Court further directed the chief secretaries of Rajasthan and Gujarat to place an updated status report on the steps taken pursuant to its April 2021 order.

A three-member expert committee constituted by the Court to consider feasibility of laying underground power cables was also directed to provide an updated report of its work by the next date. This committee comprised Rahul Rawat of the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE), Sutirtha Dutta of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Devesh Gadhavi, deputy director of Corbett Foundation.

As per the Union government, at the time when the expert committee was constituted, there were 150 GIBs and 16 more were added by breeding them in captivity. Predators preying on the eggs laid by these birds was seen as a major factor requiring their protective breeding

The GIB is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its Red List of threatened species. They are also protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

According to WII, the potential GIB habitat in Rajasthan and Gujarat extends to 80,688 square kilometers, which includes approximately 13,550 square kilometer priority habitat area. The WII report also recommended undergrounding of around 200 km of overhead power lines and installing bird diverters on all other power lines to make them prominent for GIB.

The GIB’s habitat in Rajasthan covers heritage districts of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur and parts of Bikaner and Barmer. As this region is also crucial for developing renewable energy, the state government and Centre felt that the laying down of underground power lines will prove to be counter-productive.

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