Wildlife & Biodiversity

Supreme Court seeks update on power cables at Great Indian Bustard’s habitat

Electrocution from overhead high-tension wires contributed to the birds’ falling population

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Tuesday 05 April 2022

The Supreme Court of India sought an update April 1, 2022 from the committee formed for making power lines underground in Rajasthan and Gujarat ordered a year ago. 

The habitat of the state bird of Rajasthan — the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) or Godavan — is under threat due to the zigzag web of high-tension power lines through the sacred groves of Jaisalmer. The sacred groves of the Degrai Oran and adjoining area are few of the last remaining habitats of the GIB. 

Wind farms and solar parks in the area have encroached upon the grasslands and the high-tension power lines criss-crossing through several points in the region pose a threat of electrocution of the big birds. 

Wildlife conservationist MK Ranjitsinh Jhala filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India in 2019 for power companies to lay underground wiring in the sacred groves of Jaisalmer. The petition was to protect GIBs and lesser floricans from extinction. 

SC had ordered the power companies in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat April 19, 2021 to make the high-tension power lines underground so that the large birds do not get caught in the web.  

A three-member high-level committee was also formed to look into the feasibility of the work. The committee comprised Rahul Rawat, scientist with the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Sutirtha Dutta, scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India and Devesh Gadhavi, deputy director of Corbett Foundation.

The apex court has given the committee three weeks’ time to file the report “indicating what steps have been taken for compliance with the directions contained in the judgment of this Court”.

The power companies should install diverters in places where overhead power lines already exist, last year’s order stated.

Around 122 of the total 150 GIBs found in the country were in Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan, according to a 2018 GIB count. The rest were scattered in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka. 

Since then, the population has declined and now less than 100 GIBs remain in the wild, Parth Jagani, a local conservationist from Jaisalmer, said.

The birds weigh 14-15 kilograms each and can reach a height of up to 4 feet, making them too heavy to change their course mid-way when they wander too close to power lines. They get electrocuted and die, Jagani added.

“We found a bird lying dead in November and many such accidents have occurred since the time these high-tension wires have been laid,” the expert shared.

GIB is native to the area and after disappearing from all other states, this is the last habitat of the bird, he said. “The power-lines have formed a web around the bird’s habitat, leading to a sharp decline in its population in the last few years.”

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