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Burning plastic now Jaisalmer desert’s new pollutant

Jaipur: The first windmills of Jaisalmer came up in 2001. Since then, the desert has become among the largest windfarms in the world. The spread of this “sustainable” energy source, however, has not come without a cost. Local people who have lived off tourism are finding it harder to attract foreign visitors. Villagers in Kanoi, near the Desert National Park, complain of the unceasing noise from the windmills. An inspection by a small team that included Devendra Singh Bikundiya of the state pollution control board last month found that plastic was burnt close to the border of the DNP. Air was polluted and toxic cinders were getting into sand dunes.

The large equipment used in windfarms comes packed in plastic. Once the equipment is erected, the plastic is piled in desert sand and burnt. Villagers have been petitioning the district administration to act against the firms causing pollution. In their petition, villagers name Vish Wind Infrastructure, a Mumbai-based firm, which has been granted lease of land for windfarms close to the border with the Desert National Park.

Windmills installed in this area pose a threat to the highly endangered Great Indian Bustard – it is estimated that less than 200 birds of this species now survive in the world.

“The Khaba-Kanoi road is the one taken by camel safaris. There was a time when foreign tourists would spend four or five days in these parts, moving with camels, pitching tents and spending nights looking up at starry skies. The lights atop windmills no longer allow an uninterrupted view of starry night skies. Tourists cannot be persuaded to stay more than two days, at the most. What foreign tourists seek is a sense of adventure, of being out where there are not so many people. Here, however, we now have windmills and even piles of plastic waste, slowing burning away. What can we expect to show in the desert these days?” asks Virender Singh, a conservationist who runs a resort close to the border with the Desert National Park.

The Jaisalmer culture and heritage conservation group, of which Virender Singh is a member, submitted several petitions to local authorities seeking that action be taken against firms polluting the desert air. “The burning plastic leaves toxic material. The fumes and the ashes are harmful for even reptiles and other creatures that live in the sand. The water in the area is polluted too, and farmers are affected,” says the petition that the group has submitted to district authorities in January this year.

Aparna Arora, chairperson of the state pollution control board and Jaisalmer district collector Kailash Chand were both busy in meetings and unable to answer queries. No phone number could be traced for Vish Wind.