Ban on power lines in habitats of Great Indian Bustard relaxed | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Ban on power lines in habitats of Great Indian Bustard relaxed

ByAbraham Thomas, New Delhi
Mar 22, 2024 07:52 AM IST

Supreme Court eases ban on high power transmission lines in GIB habitat, forms expert committee to balance conservation and development goals in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The Supreme Court on Thursday relaxed the ban on overhead high power transmission lines across an area spread over 80,680 square kilometres in Rajasthan and Gujarat, the habitat of the endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB), and formed an expert committee to consider the feasibility of limiting the ban to 13,663 square kilometres.

GIB is listed as Critically Endangered by International Union for Conservation of Nature (Shutterstock)
GIB is listed as Critically Endangered by International Union for Conservation of Nature (Shutterstock)

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud directed the committee, comprising independent experts, members of the National Board of Wildlife, representatives of power companies, and former and serving bureaucrats drawn from departments of environment and forests and ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) to suggest ways to balance two objectives – the conservation of the bird and India’s sustainable development goals. The first report of the committee is to be submitted to the court by July 31.

“This is a perfect example of why energy is called a wicked problem. Any viable solution comes with its own set of challenges. In this case, the court has attempted to establish some boundaries between the core and non-core areas of the GIB via the expert committee. It is important for this committee to have on it the best of minds representing industry, community and the environment. It is important to recognise that biodiversity benefits are not precisely quantifiable in the way that renewable energy generation can be quantified. It is, therefore, better to err on the side of caution and have a larger area that protects GIBs,” Deepak Krishnan, associate director of energy program at World Resources Institute India, said in a statement.

The top court, while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by wildlife activist MK Ranjitsinh and others for preserving the dwindling population of GIBs on April 19, 2021, directed installation of bird diverters in the potential habitat areas and undergrounding of overhead transmission lines in these areas in Gujarat and Rajasthan that are home to many solar power projects. In December 2021, the government returned to court with an application claiming undergrounding of power cables was not feasible and requested modification of the order.

Dealing with the application, the bench, also comprising justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, said: “It does appear that there is no adequate basis to impose a general prohibition in regard to installation of transmission lines as wide as over 80,680 square kilometres. A blanket direction for undergrounding high voltage and low voltage power lines in the nature as directed by this court cannot be accomplished. For the priority area identified (by a report of the Wildlife institute of India) to be 13,663 square kilometres, there still seems to have some basis.”

Relaxing its earlier order, the bench said, “The injunction imposed by our order dated April 19, 2021 in respect of area described as potential area shall stand relaxed subject to conditions that the expert committee appointed by this court will law down.”

The court said the committee would comprise of director, WII Dehradun, NBWL member Hari Shankar Singh, ex-principal conservator of forests Niranjan Vasu, ex-wildlife warden and former PCCF, Maharashtra, B Majmudar, former deputy director of Corbett Foundation Devesh Ghadvi, joint secretary of MNRE Lalit Bohra, and joint secretary of ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC).

The court said that issues of this nature “are best left to domain experts instead of being adjudicated by courts” as it further directed the committee to call two members from the power and transmission sector as special invitees in its deliberations.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, assisting the court as amicus curiae, requested for a judicial member to be head of the committee as he said that the pressure is huge on the government to sanction power lines in the area. He further requested the court to ensure bird diverters continue to be installed in potential areas and in a further area of 6,654 sq km, identified as an additionally important area for survival of GIB.

The bench allowed the committee to recommend any further measures for protecting GIBs in areas other than priority area, “untrammeled” by the court’s April 2021 direction.

The Centre was represented by attorney general R Venkataramani, solicitor general Tushar Mehta and additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati, who submitted that steps have already been taken to preserve GIB population and collision with overhead transmission lines is not the only reason for causing bird deaths.

The GIB population in India was said to be 150 at the time when the April 2021 direction was passed. Additionally, the Centre claimed that through protective breeding, efforts are on to scale up their population. However, it is believed that there are currently less than 100 surviving GIBs in the wild.

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.

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