JAISALMER: A vast majority the 909 wind power projects commissioned in the state listed on the website of the Rajasthan Renewable Energy Corporation Limited are in Jaisalmer district, which is now home to one of the largest wind farms in the world. By March 2015, over 3,000 MW of power were generated from the state’s windmills. In the 15 years since the first windmills were erected, however, there has been no study of the environmental or social impact of the windmills. Abdul Khan, a Manganiar who lives near Kanoi village in Jaisalmer said, “In the four years since the windmills came up near our houses, we have lost our sleep. My 80-year-old mother and wife are now both on medication for mental illnesses. The doctor says they should sleep well. But we cannot get any sleep at all. My mother keeps repeating that she voted for Rajiv Gandhi, and he will turn off these windmills.”
Kanoi is right on the border of the Desert National Park. Under the law, no windmills are allowed within a five-km distance of the boundary of DNP. The windmills, however, stand less than a km away from the park boundary. Villagers say the sound is a constant presence, and a great disturbance in the night when everything else falls silent.
Kanoi’s villagers have petitioned local authorities and even sat in a 100-day dharna in 2011. They have suggested that the windmills be forced to stop production at night, so the elderly can sleep in peace.
“I was arrested for 24 hours for protesting against the windmills,” says Abdul Khan. “Then neighbours and my children said I should keep away from trouble for I have my mother and wife to look after.”
Aala Ram, a shopkeeper in the area, also says his family is sick and tired of the endless noise. “We are poor people and no one listens to us,” he says.
In December 2014, Gajraj Singh of the erstwhile royal family of Jodhpur who serves as state convenor for Intach (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), wrote to chief minister Vasundhara Raje seeking her intervention.
His letter records that 25% of all tourists would earlier visit the royal cenotaphs at Barabagh, about seven km from Jaisalmer. Ever since the windmills were installed closed to these protected monuments, there has been a drastic fall in the number of tourists setting out in camel caravans and visiting the cenotaphs at Barabagh.
Camel caravans would earlier take tourists into the desert and allow them to spend a night out in the open, gazing at stars in the desert sky. Virender Singh, co-convenor of the Jaisalmer chapter of Intach, said, “These tours and the routes they followed would earlier be advertised at the reception of all hotels in the city. The camel safaris used to be very popular, but that business has now dried up.”
In a letter in 2011 to the district collector, Jaisalmer, Tina Kahn, a tourist from Germany, said, “Wherever I turn in Jaisalmer, I see the windmills. The Golden City is now surrounded by these ugly sticks”. She notes that she had been a regular visitor to Jaisalmer over several years, but now finds that the experience of being out in the desert is not so different from being at a discotheque – the red lights atop the windmills keep glowing through the night, disturbing the view of the starry skies. And the moving blades make the red lights flicker, as if one were at a disco. “These horrible monsters are allowed so close to peaceful temples,” she says, adding that they should be ripped off, especially since some are now so old and look unstable after a sandstorm. “Keep them 30 km away from every caravan route, village and temple,” she suggests, in a letter signed by several foreign tourists.
Wildlife enthusiasts too are concerned that the mesh of wires and windmills are obstructing the flight of the endangered Great Indian Bustard. Prerna Sharma, project manager with WWF at Jaisalmer, working on the bustard conservation project, told TOI, “The windmills have come up close to the border of the Desert National Park. The birds fly between DNP and Ramdevra, a distance of about 160 km, but their flight path is now marred by the wind farms.”
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