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Great Indian Bustard: Supreme Court says overhead low voltage power lines should be moved underground

The bench led by Chief Justice Bobde observed that overhead electricity transmission lines should be taken down.

The Supreme Court on Monday observed that overhead low voltage power lines should be laid underground and bird diverters should be installed at places where high voltage electricity lines cannot be moved underground.

Hearing a plea pertaining to the death of a large number of the endangered Great Indian Bustard due to collisions with high-voltage power lines, the bench led by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde observed that such steps should be taken to protect the birds from getting electrocuted in the eco-sensitive Kutch, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, appearing on behalf of petitioner, argued that Article 48A of the Constitution of India imposes a duty on the government to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard forests and wildlife. 

He submitted that the cost of taking down the electricity line can be borne by the electricity companies or a mechanism can be developed to raise money according to Sections 3, 4, 5 and 6 of Compensatory Afforestation Act, 2016. 

Thereafter, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal submitted that only low voltage lines can be made underground as it is not technologically feasible to make the high voltage line underground. 

To which, Counsel Divan replied that undergrounding the electricity transmission line is the norm in the world and even the State of Maharashtra has taken such steps to prevent the electrocution of flamingos. 

Then, CJI Bobde said, “We don’t want to take all the overhead electricity lines.” He also asked Divan to point out the corridors where Great Indian Bustard birds fly with their accurate map. 

Senior Advocate Abhishek Singhvi, appearing for All India Solar Federation, made his submission that court should not order to take down solar panels as prayed in the PIL and gave reasons that India is becoming a non-fossil using country in accordance with the Paris agreement. 

Further, from the area of Kutch, Gujarat and Rajasthan, 100 Gigawatt energy is being produced and this industry has created 15,000 jobs and it has also seen over Rs 1 lakh crore investment, he submitted.

CJI Bobde then replied that this will become a losing battle for the Great Indian Bustard birds and we can’t let that happen. Thereafter, he asked Advocate Singhvi to file his counter-affidavit and listed the matter for hearing on next Wednesday. 

The petitioner had submitted that the Great Indian Bustard bird is a large bird and finds it difficult to maneuver easily in flight and would be electrocuted and killed upon colliding with overhead high tension electricity transmission lines. 

The petitioner has sought the Supreme Court‘s direction to the Centre to install bird diverters and take down overhead electricity transmission line and place it underground to protect the lives of the Great Indian Bustard.

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