Supreme Court: In a PIL raising concerns for the protection of two rare species of birds, namely the Great Indian Bustard (‘GIB’) and the Lesser Florican, which is on the verge of extinction, the 3-Judge Bench comprising of D.Y. Chandrachud, A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ., directed installation of bird divertors in the priority areas before 20-07-2022.
The petitioners were environmentalists who had approached the Court to seek directions for protecting the rare birds which are dwindling in number; particularly direction to prohibit use of overhead power lines which have become a hazard as the said species of birds are getting killed on collision with the power lines.
Considering that the laying of highvoltage underground power line would require expertise to assess the feasibility of the same, the Court had constituted a three member committee by its order dated 19-04-2021. The status report submitted by the said Committee revealed that the Committee received eight applications for exemption from the requirement of setting up underground transmission lines out of which two applications were approved on the receipt of Central Electricity Authority’s (CEA) technical report permitting laying of overhead transmission lines subject to the installation of bird diverters. The remaining six applications are at various stages of scrutiny.
Noticeably, the Committee had obtained a technical report from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) on the feasibility of undergrounding 400 kV and 765 kV transmission lines and had further sought a technical report from CEA on undergrounding 66 kV and 220 kV transmission lines to which a reply is awaited. Therefore, considering the fact that none of the parties or the intervenors had any objection to the installation of bird divertors, the Bench issued following directions:
- Installation of bird divertors at least in the priority areas of the States of Gujarat and Rajasthan must be taken up with the utmost expedition.
- Installation of bird divertors in the priority areas to be completed before 20-07-2022. The Bench clarified that the direction will apply on all State owned as well as private power producers.
- The States of Rajasthan and Gujarat as well as all power producers in the private domain are to ensure that within the priority areas, a comprehensive exercise is completed within a period of three weeks to assess (i) the total length of transmission lines; and (ii) the estimated number of bird divertors required for the purpose.
- The Committee was directed to formulate the standards of quality required for the bird divertors within a month in consultation with the CEA so that uniformity can be maintained in the standards to be observed.
- Necessary steps to be taken immediately thereafter for ensuring that the time schedule of completing the installation of bird divertors in the priority areas associated with the Great Indian Bustard and Lesser Florican is observed by all power producers in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
- That any company which seeks an exemption from the direction to install underground transmission lines shall be at liberty to move the Committee which has been constituted by the Court.
- Since the feasibility of and need for installation of fresh overhead transmission lines is being examined by the Committee on a case to case basis and hence, the applicants were asked to approach to approach the Committee at first, and thereafter move the Court, if there be any subsisting grievance.
On the complaints received by the Committee regarding ongoing installation of power lines despite the directions of the Court, the Bench emphasized that the injunction imposed by the Court from the installation of fresh overhead transmission lines by its earlier order, save with the approval of the Committee should be scrupulously enforced. The States of Gujarat and Rajasthan as well as private power producers were directed to ensure that there is no breach of the directions.
The matter is listed on 20-07-2022 for further hearing.
[M.K. Ranjitsingh v. Union of India, W.P. (C) No. 838 of 2019, order dated 21-04-2022]
For Union of India: K K Venugopal, Attorney General
For the Petitioners: Shyam Divan and Prashanto Chandra Sen, Senior Advocates
For Respondents: Rakesh Dwivedi, K V Viswanathan and Dr Manish Singhvi, Senior Advocates