Power companies must consider underground laying of cables to avoid Great Indian Bustard deaths: Government
Noting that a miniscule population of less than 150 Great Indian Bustards was left in the country, a committee constituted on the directions of the National Green Tribunal, has decided to have a time-bound action plan to implement mitigation measu..
NEW DELHI: To protect the ‘critically’ endangered Great Indian Bustard, the Centre has asked electricity companies to consider underground laying of high-voltage wires as the birds have died after coming in contact with power lines.
Noting that a miniscule population of less than 150 Great Indian Bustards was left in the country, a committee constituted on the directions of the National Green Tribunal, has decided to have a time-bound action plan to implement mitigation measures such as installation of bird diverters and their regular maintenance, and monitoring by power agencies.
The committee also decided to declare their habitats as conservation reserves.
“Power line development agencies already working in GIB (Great Indian Bustard) habitats or intending to work, should be invited especially to discuss and consider the technological and economic feasibility of under-grounding different capacity of power lines,” said Director General for Forests and Special Secretary in the Environment Ministry Siddhanta Das, who chaired a meeting of the committee recently.
Only 150 GIBs are left in India, out of which around 90 per cent are in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and very few of them in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, as per a report by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), a statutory body under the ministry of environment, .
Besides India, Pakistan is the only country where these birds are found, however, as per experts, the number of GIBs in the neighbouring country is not more than 15.
The committee, after the meeting, also directed the WII to furnish the details about power lines identified for mitigation in the GIB habitat area along with details of power line owners to the ministries of power and non renewable energy for necessary action.
The GIBs are dying at the rate of 15 per cent annually after coming in contact with high-voltage power lines, the WII report said, adding that their population has been reduced by 75 per cent in the last 30 years.
The report had compiled various studies conducted by researchers across the country on GIBs.
“Mortality of adult GIBs is high due to collision with power lines that crisscross their flying path. All bustards are prone to collision due to their poor frontal vision and inability to see the power lines from a distance,” it said.
The issue came to light after a petition was filed with the NGT seeking conservation of GIB to save them from extinction.
The NGT directed that a committee be constituted to look into it a plea of Bhanu Bansal, secretary of NGO Centre for Wildlife and Environmental Litigation (CWEL).
Some of the demands the NGO has been making include declaring critical GIB habitat as inviolate area, disallowing new wind turbines at GIB areas, underground laying of power lines from 33 KV to 440 KV, and imposition of exemplary cost on power line companies which fail to comply.
“Power companies cannot be allowed to destroy the GIB habitats in the name of renewable energy. Ministry must take stringent action against such companies as several of them have carried out construction work inside these habitats without permissions,” Bansal said.
WII’s research has shown that power lines, particularly high voltage (33-440 KV) transmission lines with vertical alignment are the biggest threat to GIB as of now and their habitats have a high density of transmission lines because of the impetus on renewable energy production in GIB habitats of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
“The study recorded five GIB deaths in 2017-18 in Jaisalmer alone and calculated that 15 per cent of the GIB population may be dying because of this threat. Since the natural death rate of large bustards is 4-8 per cent, the current additive mortality rate due to transmission lines is significantly higher and if not controlled, can result in the species extinction,” the WII said.
It said that a high number of GIBs are found in Jaisalmer and the Indian Army controlled field firing range near Pokhran in Rajasthan. Other areas where they are found in less than 10 in number are Kutch district in Gujarat, Nagpur, Amravati and Solapur districts in Maharashtra, Bellary and Koppal districts in Karnataka and Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh.
The GIB is one of the heaviest flying birds endemic to the Indian subcontinent. They are primarily terrestrial birds with adult males as tall as 122 cm and weigh 11-15 kg and adult females reach up to 92 cm and weigh four to seven kg, the WII said.
According to the report, the GIB lays one egg every one to two years and the success rate of these eggs is 60-70 per cent. However, this rate has been reduced to 40-50 per cent due to predators like fox and dogs.
As per researchers, apart from the GIB, many other birds also die because of collision or electrocution with these transmission lines at the rate of 10 birds per km per month totalling nearly one lakh bird deaths annually in 4200 sq km.
The government has already released Rs 33 crore for the conservation of the GIB through a project, titled ‘Habitat Improvement and Conservation Breeding of Great Indian Bustard-An Integrated Approach’, for five years from the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) for conservation, breeding of the GIB with technical support from the WII.