18 February 2020
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday stepped in to save two endangered bird species - Great Indian Bustard and Lesser Florican - by directing the Rajasthan government to chalk out a time frame to remove overhead high-voltage power lines and lay them underground.
A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde and comprising Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant observed that the two species were vulnerable to fatal collision with overhead power lines.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) echoed the concern and insisted that power lines would have to be laid underground to save the birds.
The court then asked the Rajasthan government's counsel to obtain instructions from the authorities concerned on shifting overhead lines below the ground within two weeks.
The top court observed that the state could go for underground cables in agreements with private companies.
The court observed that overhead power lines obstruct the flight of the Great Indian Bustard, a larger bird, and as a consequence its movement was restricted.
The Chief Justice said: "One of the solutions suggested to avoid collision of birds with overhead wires is these be laid underground."
For the other bird species, the top court reckoned it faced difficulties due to power generation plants and queried the state if it is facing any issues so that the court could issue specific directions.
Additional Solicitor General ANS Nadkarni, representing the MoEF, contended that a team of ministry officials and other wildlife experts had visited Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Nadkarni said after considering all aspects, the only solution available is to take the cables underground.
The counsel for petitioner MK Ranjitsinh, a retired IAS officer, said that the terms of reference for the top court-appointed panel are ready. Through these references, the panel could look at conservation efforts for the two bird species, he said.
The counsel suggested experts -- Sutirtha Dutta (scientist); Thulsi Rao, Director, Andhra Pradesh State Biodiversity Board (APSBB); and Samad Kottur, a lecturer in government college in Karnataka -- who could be included in the court-appointed panel.
The court accepted the suggestion and directed for the inclusion of the three experts in the panel.
The top court asked the MoEF to look into the terms of reference and file an affidavit on the matter. The court will further hear the matter after two weeks.
In July 2019, the court took on record the possible extinction of the two bird species and constituted a high-powered committee to develop the response plan.
The court had set up a 3-member panel comprising Director of Bombay Natural History Society; Asad R Rahmani, a former society Director; and Dhananjai Mohan, Chief Conservator of Forests of Uttarakhand.
Wildlife activists had claimed that the two birds faced fatal collision with power infrastructure, and also depletion of their habitat and ingestion of pesticides.
The top court had sought responses from the Centre and state governments on this plea.