New Delhi: Well known as a death trap for birds, power lines also pose other ecological dangers — such as the ground cleared for their installation being an easy conquest for invasive species that could harm the environment.
It’s to mitigate such threats that the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (SC-NBWL) has decided that guidelines need to be drafted for the management of transmission lines in protected areas. Future proposals for laying transmission lines in such areas must also be submitted with a plan for their management.
The committee also approved a number of projects in protected areas and their eco-sensitive zones in its latest meeting, held on 31 December. The minutes of the meeting were published last week.
The suggestion regarding transmission lines was put forward by NBWL member Dr H.S. Singh, who said, “Measures need to be taken to check the growth of weeds like lantana (an invasive species) which start growing in the area cleared for installation of transmission lines,” according to the minutes.
He added that since transmission lines are 10 metres or higher above the ground, that “trees of height up to 5m” and “shrubs and grasses” such as Aloe vera, Agave, and Commiphora should be planted there.
Transmission lines are also responsible for vast numbers of bird deaths — one lakh a year, according to a 2018 report by the Wildlife Institute of India.
U.D. Singh, another NBWL member, “suggested that views of experts from the transmission line sector should be taken while framing the guidelines,” adding that, “the problem of bird mortality due to transmission lines should also be considered while framing the guidelines,” say the minutes.
The committee decided that information would be collected about protected areas that contain transmission lines, and sent to the NBWL and the Wildlife Institute of India to frame guidelines.
“The Standing Committee also decided that in future, all proposals for laying transmission lines submitted for its consideration should be accompanied with a management plan for the area below the transmission line,” the minutes say.
More projects in ‘strategic’ interests
The NBWL also approved a range of projects in protected areas and their eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) for their “strategic importance.”
In August, the NBWL had approved 10 roads at the Indo-China border for clearance at the Changthang Sanctuary in Ladakh, on the request of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).
Now, the Standing Committee has approved four more projects, amounting to more than 400 hectares (ha) in total, in the Changthang Sanctuary — a 1,400-sq. km park that’s home to the Tibetan wild ass, black cranes, and other rare animal species.
The new projects include a 96.04-km road between the villages of Hanle and Chumar in Ladakh, and the construction of three border outposts.
The NBWL also approved the diversion of 58.49 ha of forest land for a road in Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary. A committee led by NBWL member R. Sukumar had inspected the site and written a report with mitigation measures and recommendations, based on which the Standing Committee approved the project. This report, however, is not available for public viewing.
“I had marked that file confidential because it may have some sensitive information regarding army camps etc. But the area is huge and there isn’t a single road, so jawans have to walk for days to reach the border outposts. This will cut that distance short a bit,” Sukumar told ThePrint.
The Standing Committee greenlit the establishment of a National Ayurvedic Institute falling in the default eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary in Haryana. As requested by the AYUSH ministry, the institute will require 8 ha of land in the ESZ, which is 2.3 km away from the sanctuary’s boundary.
The committee granted its approval subject to the implementation of a Rs 5-crore conservation plan, among other guidelines.
According to the 10-year plan uploaded on the Parivesh portal — where project proposals are submitted for forest, environment, and wildlife clearances — the institute will conduct “awareness” workshops and quizzes for local residents to “appreciate” wildlife, and will plant trees along the boundary of the project.
The plan has also allocated funds for “habitat development works” for pangolins and other animals found in the sanctuary, but doesn’t detail how this will be done.
The deputy chief wildlife warden, Panchkula, had raised an objection to the plan for the institute in October 2021, saying, “It lacks financial implications and mitigation measures to be taken (for conservation of wildlife in the 10 km buffer zone and EZA area).”
The Haryana Wildlife Board, however, decided to recommend the project to the Standing Committee of the NBWL a month later, as the project would require environmental clearance as well.
“If the project was clearly polluting in nature, we would have intervened, such as if it was a coal mine or thermal power plant. This project came on the recommendation of the state. In this case, the ESZ was not notified, leaving a huge area of land around the protected area,” Sukumar said.
Speaking to ThePrint, Tanvi Sharma, a legal researcher with the Delhi-based non-profit Legal Initiative For Forest and Environment, said, “The Ayurveda Institute is a non-site-specific project. It doesn’t have to be near a wildlife sanctuary. Setting up an institute in the ESZ will definitely lead to pollution and fragmentation. There will be construction and demolition waste.”
She added that ESZs are essentially “transition zones” to avoid subjecting wildlife to diversions. “If you allow those diversions within those transition zones, then it basically defeats the purpose,” she said.
Debadityo Sinha, senior resident fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, Delhi, agreed, saying, “Section 29 of the Wildlife Protection Act says that diversions should be allowed only for projects that benefit wildlife. But none of these projects complies with this.”
This report was updated with additional inputs
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)