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Karnataka HC Doubts Expertise of Committee To Protect Great Indian Bustards

Karnataka HC Doubts Expertise of Committee To Protect Great Indian Bustards

A great Indian bustard in Kutch. Photo: Prajwalkm/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Karnataka High Court on Thursday expressed doubts about members appointed by the state government in the advisory committee formed for development and upliftment of Great Indian Bustard, (GIB) in the state, may not be experts in the field.

A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum orally said, “Out of six members at least four members may not have expertise.” It added: “Was there an application of mind before appointing these persons? You (State) must appoint people who are working in the field day in and day out.”

The state government by order dated June 17, 2020 has formed the advisory committee. The committee consists of Deputy Conservator of Forest – Ballari as its Chairman. The members of the committee are Dr Manohar, Professor of Zoology, Veerashaiva College, Dr Arun, MBBS/MS Surgeon, Tashildar, Siruguppa Taluk, Range Forest Officer, Ballari Range and Samad Kottur, Lecturer, Government PU Colleges, Hospet.

In its order, the bench directed the government to on January 25 produce details of the meeting of the committee constituted under order dated June 17 2020.

‘Place on record the minutes of the meeting of the committee. State government shall also produce files concerning appointment of members under the said order’, the HC said.

The bench noted that the Supreme Court in its order passed on July 15, 2019 has constituted a committee of six persons, all of them have been specifically named they are all ex-officio members. The State government has appointed a six member committee, out of which 3 are official members who hold position in their official capacity.

The direction was given during the hearing of a petition filed by conversationalist Edward Santosh Martin and others. The petition states the illegal actions of respondents, undertaking civil works such as construction of watch towers and anti-poaching camps, within the area of habitat of the species has pushed the species to the brink of extinction which is a blatant violation of Part III, Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

It is stated that GIB is a bird with an average age of about 12-15 years. Studies have shown that it lays about one egg every one to two years. In case of a drought, the bird may lay no eggs at all. Under ideal circumstances, the bustard chicks hatched have a survival rate of 60-70%.

Around the time of Independence, the GIB was found throughout Western India, spanning eleven states, including Rajasthan, (across the border shared with Pakistan), Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Karnataka. Today, however, the bird has disappeared from over 90% of its traditional habitat. It is now restricted to fragmented pockets with very low populations in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

In 2006, after years of exploring, a team of wild life enthusiasts including the Petitioner No 1, discovered about ‘nine bustards’ in a remote corner of Ballari district, Siruguppa, Karnataka. They had documented a few young ones as well, indicating that Karnataka had a breeding population. Since then, the NGO, along with local volunteers and Karnataka Forest Department (KFD), have been monitoring sightings of this species.

The petition says that recently, as part of CAMPA, JSW Limited had purchased 250 acres of land in Ballari where the GIB was seen, and had handed it over to the KFD towards protection of the bustard. In 2016, a rapid assessment survey by the NGO found 12 GIBs here.

Further, the plea says in May 2020, the KFD began digging hundreds of pits to plant saplings of tall trees in the very same area the GIBs were found. Converting grassland to a tree plantation is not conducive for the GIB.

‘The GIB is an open-country bird that avoids areas with dense and tall plants. In addition to this, anti-poaching camps and five watchtowers are being constructed in great haste. These buildings and tall trees will cause hindrance to the birds and cause them to fly away in search of favourable habitats,’ the plea says.

It is added ‘The presence of tall structures (such as the ones built now by the Karnataka Forest Department) will adversely impact these low flying birds which have poor frontal vision. GIBs prefer open grasslands without structures and tall trees. Many GIB deaths have been reported in India when these birds hit power lines, tall structures or tall wind power generators because of poor frontal vision. Great Indian Bustards stopped breeding in Karnataka’s only GIB Sanctuary, Ranebennur because the Forest Department built tall structures.’

The petitioners highlight that the existing constructions will be removed by this winter at the latest so that the GIBs may perhaps breed again in the spring. If they miss the breeding season for the second year at a stretch, their extinction from Karnataka is definite as there are not more than eight surviving species of GIB in Karnataka.

This article was first published by LiveLaw and has been republished here with permission.

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