Great Indian Bustard

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Recently, the Supreme Court said it will review its April 2021 order to bury underground all power lines in the habitat of the Great Indian Bustard (GIB). This was after the Centre found the order practically impossible to implement over long distances.

About Great Indian Bustard

  • It is a bustard found on the Indian subcontinent. 
  • Scientific Name: Ardeotis nigriceps
  • It is among the heaviest of the flying birds.
  • Distribution: The species has a current viable population of 100- 150 individuals in India and mainly survives in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan that holds about 100 individuals.
  • Habitat: It inhabits dry grasslands and scrublands.
  • Features:
    • It is a large bird with a horizontal body and long, bare legs, giving it an ostrich-like appearance. 
    • The sexes are roughly the same size, with the largest individuals weighing 15 kg (33 pounds). 
    • It can easily be distinguished by its black crown on the forehead, contrasting with the pale neck and head.
    • The body is brownish, and the wings are marked with black, brown, and grey.
    • They breed mostly during the monsoon season, when females lay a single egg on open ground. 
    • Lifespan: 12-15 years
    • These birds are opportunist eaters. Their diet ranges widely depending on the seasonal availability of food. They feed on grass seeds, insects like grasshoppers and beetles, and sometimes even small rodents and reptiles.
  • Conservation Status:
    • IUCN Red List: Critically Endangered
    • Wildlife (Protection)Act, 1972: Schedule 1
    • CITES: Appendix 1

Supreme Court’s Intervention

  • 2021 order of SC
    • The SC in April 2021 ordered that all overhead power transmission lines in core and potential GIB habitats in Rajasthan and Gujarat be made underground.
    • The SC also formed a three-member committee, including Devesh Gadhvi, a member of the bustard specialist group of IUCN, to help power companies comply with the order.
  • Review in 2022
    • Again, in November 2022, the court sought reports from chief secretaries of the two states in six weeks on the installation of bird diverters in priority areas.
    • It also asked them to assess the length of transmission lines needed to go underground. 
  • March 2024 order of SC
    • In March 2024, the Supreme Court said it would review its April 2021 order to bury underground all power lines in the habitat of the GIB.
    • It also created a seven-member committee that will suggest steps to protect and conserve the GIB, identifying critical areas where power lines may have to go underground.

Arguments of the Centre on the issue of undergrounding all power lines

  • The Centre said taking lines of 66 KV and higher voltage underground was not feasible for the evacuation of bulk power.
  • This is due to constraints such as transmission losses, maintenance challenges, multiple cable joints, increased time requirements, and concerns of safety.