The Supreme Court on Monday swooped-in to intervene on behalf of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustards over the birds falling dead after colliding with power lines running through their dwindling natural habitats in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde will examine on a priority basis whether overhead power cables can be replaced with underground ones to save one of the heaviest flying birds on the planet.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Power Ministry, however submitted that only low voltage lines can go underground but not the high voltage ones.
The court found further that an alternative mechanism — to install flight bird divertors — to guide the birds away from the power lines would be expensive. In fact, the court discovered that the divertors, with their recurring costs, would end costing more than installing and maintaining underground lines.
But the court suggested treading the middle path.
“Wherever there is high voltage power lines, they can use flight bird divertors even if the recurring costs are high. Wherever there are overhead low voltage lines, these lines can be placed underground,” Chief Justice Bobde remarked.
Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, appearing for some power companies, objected to the court passing any sort of blanket ban which would affect over 50 lakh jobs.
Mr. Singhvi said the greater threat to the birds was from their diminishing habitat which have been flattened for agriculture. He said these areas were arid areas which require electricity for sourcing water.
“That does not mean birds are not dying because of the power transmission lines. We are not against the generation of electricity. We are on the nature of transmission of electricity,” Chief Justice Bobde responded.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, for petitioners including M.K. Ranjitsinh, said the bird is on the “brink of extinction”.
“They are mega flauna and have the largest wing span,” Mr. Divan said.
He said over ₹38,000 crore collected by the States and Union Territories could be used to save the species from extinction.
“It is the obligation of the State, it is the obligation of this generation to see to it that the bird does not die,” Mr. Divan submitted.
The court agreed to further hear the case next week.