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NEW DELHI: To save critically endangered Great Indian Bustard and Lesser Florican from extinction, the Supreme Court on Monday directed Gujarat and Rajasthan governments to underground overhead power cables in the bird species’s habitat areas in Kutch and Thar to avoid their collisional deaths and instal diverters till undergrounding work was complete.
“In all cases where the overhead power lines exist as on today in the priority and potential GIB area, the respondents shall take steps forthwith to install divertors pending consideration of the conversion of the overhead cables into underground power lines. In all such cases where it is found feasible to convert the overhead cables into underground power lines the same shall be undertaken and completed within a period of one year and till such time the diverters shall be hung from the existing power lines,” said a bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.
This order was passed on a PIL filed by environmentalist M K Ranjitsinh. GIB is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world, about a meter in height and wingspan of around seven feet. The petitioner said the bird species has disappeared from 90 per cent of habitat except parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, which needs to be protected at all costs.
According to the petitioner, overhead power lines are the biggest threat to the survival of GIB. The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in its Report “Power Line Mitigation, 2018” had stated that every year 1 lakh birds die due to collision with power lines. In terms of GIB, six mortalities have been recorded in Thar during 2017­-20, all due to high tension transmission lines – some of them connected to wind turbines. The Report concluded that unless power line mortality is mitigated urgently, extinction of GIBs is certain.
The Union power ministry of power ministry told the SC in its affidavit that “GIB lacks frontal vision. Due to this, they cannot detect power lines ahead of them, from far. As they are heavy birds, they are unable to manoeuvre across power lines within close distances. Thus, they are vulnerable to collision with power lines. In case of low voltage lines, electrocution is often the cause of death due to smaller phase to phase separation distance. High voltage lines do not cause death due to electrocution but cause death due to collision.”
The bench said, “we are conscious that the laying of the underground power line more particularly of high voltage though not impossible, would require technical evaluation on case­-to-­case basis and an omnibus conclusion cannot be reached laying down a uniform method and directions cannot be issued unmindful of the fact situation.” It however said that all low voltage power lines in future would be laid underground in potential GIB habitat and the existing overhead low voltage power lines be made underground within a year.
In respect of high voltage power lines to be made underground, the SC constituted a three-member committee comprising Rahul Rawat, scientist in ministry of new and renewable energy, Sutirtha Dutta, scientist in Wildlife Institute of India at Dehradun and Devesh Gadhari, deputy director of The Corbett Foundation.
“In cases where the respondents find that there are issues relating to feasibility (of pushing overhead power cables underground), the matter shall be referred to the committee with all relevant material and particulars. The committee shall assess the matter and arrive at a conclusion as to whether the underground power line is feasible or not. Based on the report to be rendered by the committee the further action shall be taken by the respondent,” it ordered.

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