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Conservation of Endangered Great Indian Bustard Encounters Birdhit

Rajasthan has not installed bird diverters to protect the bustard from power cables despite SC order.

With only 150 rare Great Indian Bustards (GIBs) left in the country, the Supreme Court (SC) has taken a strict view of the numerous reports of their carcasses found entangled in the high-tension wires. India has likely the largest population of GIBs, listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

On April 21, the apex court ordered Gujarat and Rajasthan, two of the few states where the rare Ostrich-like bird is found, and all private power producers to conduct a comprehensive exercise and submit an assessment of the total length of transmission lines and the estimated number of bird diverters needed to ensure the safety of its habitat within three weeks.

A bird diverter consists of a reflector disc, clamps and connectors installed on high-voltage power lines that alerts birds from, at least, 50 metres to change their path of flight. Several GIBs, which weigh around 15 kg and have poor vision, have died after colliding with power lines in recent years. 

High-tension wires have been installed across the desert regions of Rajasthan and Gujarat, the hubs of renewable energy generation, in the last 20 years.

The installation of bird diverters in the ‘Priority and Potential Great Indian Bustard habitat’ of the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan must be taken up with the utmost expediency. The installation of bird divertors in the priority areas shall be completed before July 20, 2022, when these proceedings shall be taken up for further direction,” the SC order stated.

In an earlier order dated April 19, 2021, the court had directed that underground transmission lines be installed to reduce mortality in endangered species of birds like the GIB and the Lesser Florican. 

On April 20, 2022, the report of a three-member committee formed by the SC to submit a report on transmission lines showed that a feasibility report for underground 400 kV and 765 kV transmission lines had been obtained from the Central Electricity Authority. The committee had sought a report also on underground 66 kV and 220 kV transmission lines but it is still awaited.

The committee also reported that eight applications had been received so far requesting exemption from underground lines. Two of these have been approved. 

According to GV Reddy, former Rajasthan principal chief conservator of forests, that there is an attempt to dilute instal relatively cheaper bird diverters instead of underground lines. “Studies in Europe show that the efficacy of these devices is not very high,” he said. A 2020 scientific paper showed that not all of these devices are equally effective. 

Rajasthan hasn’t even installed bird diverters. Wildlife biologist Sumit Dookia, who monitors the situation with the support of a small team of volunteers of the Ecology, Rural Development and Sustainability Foundation, pointed out the devices haven’t been installed in Jaisalmer. “We have made several representations to the district collector and also approached the police but there are no signs that the order will be implemented in earnest,” he said. 

Reddy wondered why about 5,000 sq km of the over 1 lakh sq km of the Thar Desert couldn’t be kept aside for the birds. Installing underground cables would be quite expensive and companies are reportedly preparing to challenge the SC ruling.

Challenging the argument about the expense involved in laying underground cables, Reddy pointed to the massive losses incurred by energy distribution companies. The total cost of laying underground cables in priority areas would not exceed the annual budget of any of the large corporations in Rajasthan, he claimed.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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