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Great Indian Bustard habitats to be declared as conservation reserves

As per a report by the Wildlife Institute of India, only 150 Great Indian Bustards are left in India. | File

As per a report by the Wildlife Institute of India, only 150 Great Indian Bustards are left in India. | File   | Photo Credit: Azeet

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Ministry of Environment asks power companies to consider placing high voltage lines under the ground as the birds have died after coming in contact with them

Seeking to protect the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB), the Ministry of Environment has decided to declare their habitats as conservation reserves and asked power companies to consider placing high voltage lines under the ground as the birds have died after coming in contact with them.

Also read: Great Indian Bustard nearing extinction due to high voltage power lines: Environment Ministry

During a meeting held by a committee under the ministry, constituted in pursuance to the directions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), it was also decided to have time bound action plan for the implementation of mitigation measures such as installation of bird diverters and their regular maintenance and monitoring by power agencies.

“All the powerline development agencies already working in GIB habitat or intend to work should be invited especially to discuss and consider the technological and economic feasibility of under-grounding different capacity of power lines,” Siddhanta Das, Director General of Forests and Special Secretary in the ministry, who chaired the committee meeting, said.

As per a report by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, only 150 GIBs are left in India, out of which around 90% are found in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The committee, after its meeting held recently, also directed the WII to furnish 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 so that necessary action may be initiated.

The GIBs are dying at the rate of 15% annually due to collision with high voltage power lines, the WII report had said, adding that their population has been reduced by 75% 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 criss-cross 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 had said.

Also read: Great Indian Bustard's fight for survival

The issue came to light after a petition was filed in the NGT seeking conservation of GIB to save them from extinction.

The NGT directed constitution of a committee to look into it on plea of Bhanu Bansal, secretary of Centre for Wildlife and Environmental Litigation (CWEL), an NGO.

Some of the demands the NGO has been making include declaring critical GIB habitat as inviolate area, disallowing new wind turbines at GIB areas, undergrounding power lines from 33 kilo volt to 440 kv and imposition of exemplary cost on power line companies which fail to oblige.

Also read: The Indian bustard: on its last legs?

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 5 GIB deaths in 2017-18 in Jaisalmer alone and calculated that 15% of the GIB population may be dying because of this threat. Since the natural death rate of large bustards is 4-8%, 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.

Also read: Rajasthan’s State bird may be extinct soon

It said that maximum number of GIBs were found in Jaisalmer and the Indian Army-controlled field firing range near Pokhran, 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 4-7 kg, the WII said.

According to the report, the GIB lays one egg every 1-2 years and the success rate of these eggs is 60-70%. However, this rate has been reduced to 40-50% 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 4,200 sq km.

The government has already released ₹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.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 8:17:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/great-indian-bustard-habitats-to-be-declared-as-conservation-reserves/article30038684.ece

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