SC seeks AG’s view on laying of underground cables to protect endangered birds

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New Delhi, Jan 11 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Monday sought to know the views of Attorney General K K Venugopal on laying of underground cables and source of its funding for protecting the endangered birds--the Great Indian Bustard and Lesser Florican.

The top court asked Venugopal to not think on commercial lines and explore the possibility of funds for laying of underground cables from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said that it will hear the matter in detail after two weeks and asked Venugopal to file his report. “Everybody talks about how undergrounding of cables are done elsewhere. But nobody talks about the cost and who will do this. We are concerned about these lines. Somebody should give us the actual figures on cost and other things,” the bench said.

The top court was hearing a plea for installation of bird diverters and laying of underground cables to protect endangered birds-- the Great Indian Bustard and Lesser Florican. During the hearing, senior advocate Shyam Divan appearing for petitioner MK Ranjitsinh, said they have submitted a coloured map as directed by the court and it has been placed on record. Venugopal said that he does not have the copy of the map.

The bench asked Divan to give the maps to Venugopal and said that there is wide discrepancy in laying down underground cables and actual figure on cost to be incurred is needed.

Besides the Attorney General, the bench asked the petitioners to also suggest funding routes for laying underground cables. A counsel appearing for one of the parties said that the Central electricity authority can do the work of laying underground cable.

Divan said that he does not think that there was any issue with the funding as there is no dearth of funds. On December 15, last year, the top court had sought assistance of the Attorney General in exploring the possibility of extending the jurisdiction of the National Green Tribunal under Wildlife Protection Act, a view shared by the top law officer who said it should have been done. Venugopal had assured the top court that he would look into the issue straightaway.

On February 18, last year the top court had asked the Rajasthan government to consider laying underground cables to protect the two endangered birds saying that they are large birds and it is difficult for them to manoeuvre due to the high-tension power lines which obstruct their flight paths. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had earlier told the top court that there is no other option but to lay power cables underground to protect the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) and Lesser Florican (LF). The top court had said that one of the dangers is the presence of high voltage power lines, which obstruct the flight path of the GIB and one of the solutions suggested is to avoid any collision in its flight path by laying over-head wires underground.

It had asked the Rajasthan government to look into modifying the contract of private companies for laying down the power cables underground. On July 15, 2019, the court had taken serious note of alarming extinction of the GIB and the LF and constituted a high powered committee to urgently frame and implement an emergency response plan for the protection of these species. It had constituted a 3-member panel comprising Director of Bombay Natural History Society; Asad R Rahmani, former Director of Bombay Natural History Society and Dhananjai Mohan, Chief Conservator of Forests of Uttarakhand. Later, three more members were added in the panel as suggested by the petitioner.

It had sought responses from the Centre and state governments including Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, where these two species of birds are prominently found, on a plea of wildlife activists. Ranjitsinh, a retired IAS officer and others had sought the court's directions for an urgent emergency response plan to protect and recovery of both bird species. Ranjitsinh, who has served as the director of Wildlife Protection, has contended in his plea that over the last 50 years the population of the GIB has recorded a decline of over 82 per cent, falling from an estimated 1,260 in 1969, to 100-150 in 2018. 'The population of the Lesser Florican (also known as the likh or kharmore) has seen a sharp decline of 80 per cent over the past few decades, from 3530 individuals recorded in 1999, to less than 700 individuals in 2018,' the plea said. It added that both the birds are protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 but despite being accorded the highest level of protection under national law; the birds face the threat of imminent extinction. The plea blamed various reasons for the threats faced by the two endangered birds including -- mortality by collision with infrastructure, particularly power lines and wind turbines, depletion of grasslands, hunting, development of mines and human habitation in and around their habitats and ingestion of pesticides. PTI MNL ABA SJK MNL RKS RKS