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Although solar parks are encouraged to provide clean energy, local communities in Rajasthan are worried about their impact on the desert vegetation.
People from the Bishnoi community protested at Badi Sid village on Wednesday after they were angered by the destruction of trees to make way for solar parks in Phalodi.
They claimed that the companies had systematically cleared the desert landscape, uprooting trees such as Khejadi or the state tree Rohida and removing native species of shrubs & grasses.
Eight companies were recently approved to build solar power plants in Badi Sid, Phalodi. The companies leased thousands of hectares from the locals.
These companies are clearing trees and other vegetation to make the land suitable for plants. This has concerned local communities as well as environmentalists.
The president of Akhil Bhartiya Bishnoi Mahiya Devendra Budia demanded a thorough survey of the entire area to determine the extent of tree loss. He claimed that 40% of the area had been cleared and that it continues unabated.
Concerned about the fragile biodiversity in the desert, the community and environmentalist have been raising concerns over the destruction of the vegetative land by solar plants and windmills. “It was shocking to see a large number trees being cut down and buried in Moderi Nadi to conceal their actions,” they said.
Bhagwan Das Jambha said, “Seeing the burgeoning danger to the trees, wildlife here, and we decided to pursue the issue with the government,”. He was a priest who visited the area of tree dumping with villagers, and called on the locals for a demonstration in Badi Sid.
Community members demanded a masterplan for solar plants in deserts and the allocation of barren land parcels that have been rejected or abandoned, which don’t have any vegetation for the power plants.
They also requested that the agreement include a condition to allow trees to be planted on 30% of the land surrounding a power plant.
The world’s largest solar plant cluster, located at Bhadla, Phalodi on a total of 5,700 hectares and with a total power output of 2245 MW, has made the vast desert areas a magnet for solar power companies.
These plants have created rivalries among cast, political, and local groups in order to get contracts for works. However, environmentalists are also concerned about the possibility of desert ecology being disturbed.
Anil Chhangani (Head of the Department of Environment Science at Maharaja Ganga Singh University in Bikaner) proposed an audit of all desert power plants to determine their feasibility and to assess any harm they did to the environment.
He stated that the habitat for many species is being threatened by the massive felling of trees to make way for power plants. The natural vegetation that supports livestock has also been reduced.
He said that the animals were dying because they had no food or water.