Relief On The Horizon For Solar Developers In GIB Zone In Rajasthan

Relief On The Horizon For Solar Developers In GIB Zone In Rajasthan GIB order 2024

In developments in the vital GIB case that has impacted almost 20 GW of solar capacity additions by some estimates, the matter of building Solar Plants in a massive 80,000 square Km zone termed the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) habitat zone seems closer to a resolution. The issue had been the demand of conservationists, being considered by the Supreme Court, to ensure that transmission lines from the projects planned here were laid underground, to avoid disturbing the habitat of the severely endangered species , the Great Indian Bustard.

GIB, with a wingspan of approximately seven feet and a height of approximately one metre, is among the heaviest flying birds in the world. Parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat are its last refuge,as most of its habitat has vanished, leaving probably less than 100 birds in the wild today. Due to their lack of frontal vision, it was contended that the birds are unable to see powerlines in front of them from a distance and are too heavy to avoid them in close quarters. The bird is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its Red List of threatened species.

In many ways, the SC’s GIB Order has agreed with the contention that outside the core area, the GIB faces a plethora of other issues, man made and natural, that are bigger than the matter of transmission lines perhaps. The petitioners for solar firms had contended that deaths due to collisions were minimal, something the SC seems to have agreed with.

But now, faced with an argument of supporting India’s efforts to significantly reduce emission levels by 2030, an SC bench on Tuesday agreed to release over 67,000 sq km area for setting up lines for transmission of solar power generated in Rajasthan and Gujarat but said 13,000 sq km area must remain undisturbed as it’s the core habitat of the Great Indian Bustard. The area falling in the GIB habitat covered key districts of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur and parts of Bikaner and Barmer, all critical to Rajasthan’s, and national solar plans. Going underground was estimated to potentially add Rs 55,000 crores to costs, from Industry associations,

On April 21, 2021, almost a day to the latest order, the SC in its GIB order had banned overhead power cables for transmission of solar energy plants in 80,000 square km area. Industry and eventually the government also agreed that this was simply unimplementable.

A bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said, “Our court has put a blanket ban on potential GIB area, which is not justified. What we do here (in court) may ultimately lead to increasing dependency on coal-fired thermal power plants. Instead of a blanket ban on 80,000 sq kms involving both critical and potential GIB habitat, we can impose heightened restrictions on their critical habitat spread across 13,000 sq km and free the potential area of 67,000 sq km for harnessing solar energy and laying overhead power lines.”

The industry will eagerly look towards closure of this issue now, and with the ling pipeline of pending projects, expect the resolution here to add at least a further 9-10 GW of capacity additions by 2026 in the region.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International