Of the less than 100 remaining Great Indian Bustard, yet another has died. It died of collision with a power line in Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, the home territory of this large, fascinating bird.
Incidentally, the death of this “critically endangered” bird three days ago comes exactly a year after the Supreme Court had, in April 2021, directed the power firms and the government to lay underground wires for all new power projects in Rajasthan and go for diverters for existing lines.
However, both the government and the multiple agencies continued to fight their way out, prompting the apex court to recently give the power companies of Gujarat and Rajasthan a deadline of July 20. Incidentally, the majority of these projects are either solar power plants or wind power plants in these two states.
The Great Indian Bustard (GIB), or Ardeotis nigriceps, is listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List and the National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016). A large bird of about 1 metre height, the GIB has a wing span of almost 2 metres with the adult weighing between 15-18 kg.
In 2018 count, there were only 150 GIBs left in the country, 122 of them in the Jaisalmer area in Rajasthan. The remaining 28 were sighted in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Karnataka. However, wildlife conservationists have claimed that the number of GIBs is below 100 as of 2022 in the wild.
“Why are the power lines (still) coming up in Thar and Kutch, the last strongholds of the Great Indian Bustards? Ironically because of green power – the wind and solar. We must site these projects away from endangered bird habitat, consider de-centralised solar and at the earliest, take the existing lines underground,” said Neha Sinha, a conservation biologist with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and author of a book “Wild and Wilful”.
Earlier, hearing a case filed in 2019 by a conservationist, even the National Green Tribunal had on December 23, 2020 ordered all power transmission lines to go underground, especially for the then upcoming renewable power projects in identified habitats of the GIB in Rajasthan.
At that time, disposing of the case, it had also asked the Union Environment, Forest and Climate Change Ministry to install bird diverters on “existing solar and wind power lines.”
The Ministry had claimed that it was impressed upon by the Ministry of Renewable Energy that the main areas of conservation of GIB in western Rajasthan overlaps with one of the main renewable energy hubs of the country and ultimately, had submitted details of the major works done under the project ‘Habitat Improvement and Conservation Breeding of Great Indian Bustard – an integrated approach’.
But with any considerable results and actions on the ground, the death of the latest GIB has led to further anger among the conservation circles.