SC directs Guj, Raj to convert overhead electric cables into underground powerlines to save GIB

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New Delhi, Apr 19 (PTI) In a bid to save endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB), the Supreme Court on Monday directed the Gujarat and Rajasthan governments to convert the overhead electric cables into underground powerlines, wherever feasible, within a period of one year.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde formed a three-member committee to assess the feasibility for laying of the high-voltage underground power line.

The committee comprises scientists Dr. Rahul Rawat, Dr. Sutirtha Dutta and Dr. Devesh Gadhavi, Deputy Director of Corbett Foundation.

'The above committee may also obtain technical reports if need be, from experts in the field of electricity supply to arrive at their decision. The Government of India shall provide all assistance to the Committee,' the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna V Ramasubramanian, said.

The apex court directed that work for laying the powerlines underground shall proceed right away where there is no doubt about its feasibility.

'However, in cases where the respondents find that there are issues relating to feasibility, the matter shall be referred to the committee with all relevant material and particulars. The committee shall assess the matter and arrive at a conclusion as to whether the underground powerlines is feasible or not. Based on the report to be rendered by the committee the further action shall be taken by the respondent,' the bench said.

The apex court said that in all such cases where it is found feasible to convert the overhead cables into underground powerlines, the same shall be undertaken and completed within a period of one year.

'In all cases where the overhead powerlines exist as on today in the priority and potential GIB area the respondents shall take steps forthwith to install diverters pending consideration of the conversion of the overhead cables into underground powerlines. 'In all such cases where it is found feasible to convert the overhead cables into underground powerlines the same shall be undertaken and completed within a period of one year and till such time the diverters shall be hung from the existing powerlines,' the bench said.

The top court said that the State, as well as the Central government, have a duty cast to preserve the endangered species and as such the expenses incurred will have to be provided by them either under the schemes available or by earmarking the same in such manner. 'Needless to mention that in the instant case the preservation is by undergrounding the powerlines and in that context, if cost is incurred, it would also be permissible to pass on a portion of such expenses to the ultimate consumer subject to the approval of the Competent Regulatory Authority,' the bench said.

With regard to the conservation of the habitat to secure the safety of the eggs laid by the birds, the apex court also directed that certain areas be fenced and protected from invasion by predators so that the eggs laid in these areas are protected. 'In addition to the death of the birds due to collision and electrocution, the conservation strategy also requires protecting the eggs of the said species of birds and the same being transferred to breeding centres for the purpose of hatching,' it said.

The apex court's judgement came on a plea of M.K. Ranjitsinh, a retired IAS officer and others, seeking court's directions for an urgent emergency response plan to protect and ensure recovery of numbers of GIB and Lesser Florican (LF). PTI PKS RKS RKS