The Power and Environment Ministries, along with the governments of Gujarat and Rajasthan, will approach the Supreme Court with a conservation plan to save the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) from extinction, an issue that has left around 23,000 megawatt (MW) of solar and wind power capacities hanging in balance.
The issue pertains to an April 2021 PIL in the Supreme Court related to the issue of high-tension power transmission lines of wind and solar plants in Rajasthan and Gujarat posing a serious electrocution threat to the GIB, or Godawan, the State bird of Rajasthan.
After extensive consultations, the Centre has devised a strategy to create a conservation mission for the GIB, with a focus on increasing its numbers through technologies such as artificial insemination. It was discovered that instances of electrocution of the GIB when it comes in contact with transmission lines were few. The real challenge is that the endangered bird’s birth rate has gone down drastically.
Power Minister RK Singh told BusinessLine: “I had a meeting with Environment Ministry. Concerns were raised on GIB as it dies after hitting transmission lines and their numbers are dwindling. We have gone deep into it. We found that instances of birds dying after coming in touch with wires was low. However, to ensure that its numbers grow, there is a need to ensure that its hatching and post-hatching care habitats are safe and thriving.”
The RE capacity that has been impacted due to the GIB issue is around 22,000-23,000 MW. It is on hold as the matter is with the apex court, he added.
The Minister said a similar incident related to birds happened in the UAE, which the Arab nation solved by running a conservation mission and raised their numbers substantially.
Elaborating further, Singh said: “Environment Ministry has collaborated with them [UAE]. They increased the bird’s number through artificial insemination to increase hatching. Then after eggs were laid, they protected them and provided them proper care and environment. It is a species similar to the GIB. A MoU has been signed and we will adopt that technology.”
Singh was referring to the MoU, signed earlier this month, between the Wildlife Institute of India and International Fund for Houbara Conservation for conservation of the GIB and Lesser Florican. It was inked during External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s visit to the UAE. The Houbara Bustard is a close cousin of the GIB. The UAE’s Houbara Fund is a breeding program for bustards.
“We want to put our humble submission before the honourable court that the problem is not with death rate, but the birth rate. This issue was faced by the UAE and we will adopt that process to increase GIB’s birth rate. Once the birth rate grows, the problem will be solved,” Singh emphasised.
He further stressed that the solution is not to put transmission lines underground, as it is not the death rate. The problem is the birth rate, which is low.
“We were not able to explain the issue in detail to the court. So now, the Ministries of Power and Environment, as well as the Rajasthan and Gujarat government will approach the Supreme Court,” he added.
GIB in SC
In April last year, the Supreme Court directed Gujarat and Rajasthan to convert overhead electric cables into underground lines, wherever feasible, within a year to protect the endangered GIB from extinction. It had also set up a three-member committee to assess the feasibility for the laying of high-voltage underground power cables. It was in response to a PIL filed by wildlife expert M K Ranjitsinh and others.
In April 2022, the apex court directed Gujarat and Rajasthan governments to install bird diverters in the priority areas in order to save the GIB and Lesser Florican (LF) from high-tension power transmission lines.
Industry sources said that Rajasthan and Gujarat are going to witness development of several RE projects requiring huge overhead transmission networks for power evacuation. Underground transmission line is unviable due to high cost. Besides, power leakage from underground cables may adversely affect farming land and farmers. Hence, installation of bird diverters is the most cost-effective solution for the energy sector.