JAIPUR: In a major verdict to save the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard, the Supreme Court has directed the governments of Rajasthan and Gujarat to replace overhead power cables with underground ones.
Hearing a plea on the death of a large number of the Great Indian Bustards due to collisions with high-voltage power lines, the bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde said all steps should be taken to protect the birds from getting electrocuted in their eco-sensitive habitats in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The verdict came after a long legal battle on a plea in which the petitioner had submitted that the Great Indian Bustard is a large bird and finds it difficult to manoeuver easily in flight and gets electrocuted and killed after colliding with overhead electricity transmission lines.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing on behalf of the petitioner, argued that Article 48A of the Constitution of India imposes a duty on the government to protect and improve the environment and safeguard forests and wildlife. He argued that the cost of taking down the electricity lines can be borne by the electricity companies or a mechanism can be developed to raise the money required for this exercise.
The Great Indian Bustard, one of the heaviest flying birds on the planet, is the state bird of Rajasthan. Several conservation efforts are being made to prevent its extinction over the past many years but its numbers have been gradually declining.
Bird experts agree that one of the major reasons for this decline is Great Indian Bustards often falling dead after colliding with power lines running through their dwindling natural habitats in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
In the last hearing on this case, the Supreme Court had reserved its verdict on April 6.
After the crucial verdict, the PCCF and Chief Wildlife Warden of Rajasthan, Mohan Lal Meena said, "We will study the court's judgment in detail and then decide what can be done. I think we will not have any major problem in replacing the smaller 132 KV lines but for the rest we will need the Power Ministry’s clearance for any action."
The Chief Wildlife Warden of Rajasthan also asserted that "the issue of power lines does not affect the bustards in the National Desert Park spread over large areas in Barmer and Jaisalmer districts of Rajasthan which is the major habitat of the Great Indian Bustard. But it is an important issue in Ramdevra and Pokhran Field Firing Range and we will examine in detail how to tackle that."
The Great Indian Bustard is termed a critically endangered bird in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of 2011 and is accorded the highest level of legal protection under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.