In view of recent mortalities of Great Indian Bustard (GIB), considered India’s most critically endangered bird species especially found in Rajasthan and Gujarat, a Supreme Court constituted committee has requested the court to pass directions prioritising underground laying of power transmission lines.
The committee — which comprises scientists Rahul Rawat, Sutirtha Dutta, and Devesh Gadhavi — in a status report submitted in the apex court said: “Given the high mortality risk and recent evidence of two GIB mortalities in the prioritized area of Rajasthan, and frequent movements of both species of bustards in the prioritised area of Gujarat, the members request the Supreme Court for necessary directions to concerned agencies for expediting the underground laying of transmission lines inside the priority areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat.”
The committee, in the report submitted in January this year, brought on record details of the applications received for the assessment of feasibility of laying transmission lines underground.
The committee added that it has received applications for about 3260 km powerline in GIB area of Rajasthan and has reached a decision for about 2356 km line, out of “which 98 per cent of line length has been ratified for overhead laying with Bird Flight Diverters (and additional mitigation measures such as horizontal stringing and minor realignments wherever required)”.
It further added, “whereas, 2 per cent of line-length has not been ratified for overhead laying since they are proposed through the prioritized GIB Area that is critical for the survival of the species…recorded recent mortalities of GIB, and therefore needed to be safeguarded from further expansion of overhead transmission lines”.
The committee said it has received applications for about 4132 km powerline in GIB area of Gujarat and has reached a decision for about 4094 km line, out of which “82 per cent of line length has been ratified for overhead laying with Bird Flight Diverters (and additional mitigation measures such as horizontal stringing and minor realignments, re-routing wherever required)”.
It further added, “whereas, 18 per cent of line-length has not been ratified for overhead laying since they are proposed through either the priority or potential area having high-frequency of movement that is critical for the survival of both the bustard species found in Gujarat and therefore needed to be safeguarded from further expansion of overhead transmission lines”.
The committee said it has sent a communication on May 3, 2021, to concerned agencies requesting applications of existing transmission lines for which exemption from undergrounding is to be sought.
“However, the committee has not received any application for existing transmission lines in Rajasthan to be exempted from undergrounding. Further, to the best of the knowledge of these committee members, no existing transmission line in Rajasthan and only a -10 km segment of a much longer 66kV transmission line in Gujarat have been laid underground; whereas the length of transmission lines (installed before the Hon’ble SC order) that have been marked with Bird Flight Diverters is < 25 per cent of the total line length,” it added.
According to a 2021 report of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), GIB are on the verge of extinction with hardly 50 to 249 of them alive.
The committee submitted the status report in connection with a PIL to protect the GIB. Earlier, the apex court had directed the Gujarat and Rajasthan governments to underground power cables, wherever feasible, and stressed on installing bird diverters in GIB prioritized areas.
On November 30, the Supreme Court had told the Attorney General R Venkataramani to check with the ministry of environment and forest, to explore the possibility of having a ‘project Great Indian Bustard (GIB)’, on the lines of ‘Project Tiger’.
The top court sought reports from the chief secretaries of Rajasthan and Gujarat in six weeks on installation of bird diverters in priority areas. It also sought examination of the total length of transmission lines, where electrical wires would have to go under-ground to ensure the birds do not die of electrocution.
Emphasizing urgent emergency response, the PIL had sought the court’s directions to protect and ensure the recovery of the numbers of the endangered GIB and Lesser Florican (LF). The apex court had constituted a three-member committee to assess the feasibility of laying high-voltage underground power cables.
(Sumit Saxena can be contacted at email@example.com)