Congress vs BJP: The politics around India's cheetah relocation project
Prime Minister Narendra Modi released eight cheetahs flown in from Namibia into the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh on Saturday. However, the PM's 'Project Cheetah' triggered a ferocious political battle with Congress stating that the seeds of this project were laid under former PM Manmohan Singh in 2010. As the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spar, here's more about India's 'cheetah politics.'
- The cheetah—the world's fastest land animal capable of reaching a speed of over 110 kilometers per hour—had gone extinct in India in 1952 due to habitat loss and overhunting.
- It is considered a vulnerable species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, with less than 7,000 cheetahs remaining worldwide—primarily in the African savannas.
On Saturday evening, Congress, with an image of MP Jairam Ramesh petting a cheetah, tweeted out that the proposal was originally prepared under the UPA government. It said, "The proposal for 'Project Cheetah' was prepared in 2008-09...In April 2010, then Minister of Forest and Environment Jairam Ramesh went to the Cheetah Outreach Center in Africa." However, the Supreme Court ordered a stay in 2012.
'प्रोजेक्ट चीता' का प्रस्ताव 2008-09 में तैयार हुआ।— Congress (@INCIndia) September 16, 2022
मनमोहन सिंह जी की सरकार ने इसे स्वीकृति दी।
अप्रैल 2010 में तत्कालीन वन एवं पर्यावरण मंत्री @Jairam_Ramesh जी अफ्रीका के चीता आउट रीच सेंटर गए।
2013 में सुप्रीम कोर्ट ने प्रोजेक्ट पर रोक लगाई, 2020 में रोक हटी।
अब चीते आएंगे pic.twitter.com/W1oBZ950Pz
Getting cheetahs back to India has been 12 years in the making. Congress government, in 2010, proposed to fly African cheetahs to India and put them in different wildlife sanctuaries where they had been found earlier but were now extinct. However, a petition was lodged in the Supreme Court in 2012 against importing cheetahs from Namibia and relocating them to MP's Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary.
In 1995, a petition by the Centre for the Environment Law challenged Indian government's wildlife conservation efforts and asked the SC to monitor it. In 2012, the plea against 'Project Cheetah' was filed by the amicus curiae in the case, PS Narasimha. The plea said that the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary had been designated as the relocation site of Asiatic Lions from the Gir Sanctuary.
According to India Today, Narasimha said that Environment Ministry's decision to introduce African cheetahs into the same habitat as the lions "has not been either placed before the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) nor has been a considered decision taken in this regard." As a result, a two-judge bench quashed the decision by the Singh government in 2013.
According to reports, the SC insisted that a detailed scientific study needs to be conducted before "introducing a foreign species" to India. "The decision taken by the ministry to first introduce African cheetahs in Kuno and then the Asiatic lion, is arbitrary and illegal. It is a clear violation of the statutory requirements provided under the Wildlife Protection Act," the top court had said.
After being in cold storage for many years, Project Cheetah was revived by an SC plea in 2017. The petition argued that the government had done a feasibility study and consulted the NBWL which considered the proposal in September 2012. The plea included a 2010 report by two wildlife trusts that had assessed 10 sites across five states to determine habitat and viability.
After two years, the SC bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde allowed the government to kickstart the project on a trial basis. "It is submitted that African Cheetahs should be introduced on an experimental basis...to see whether they can adapt to the Indian conditions," the bench directed. The court also created a three-member panel of experts to oversee the project.
The journey towards sustainable development, protecting our flora and fauna is incomplete without community participation. In Madhya Pradesh earlier today, interacted with Cheetah Mitras, who will surely do excellent work. pic.twitter.com/eIVCxeZj7A— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 17, 2022
There have been no hearings after 2020 and the court has also not clarified if the expert panel submitted any reports, despite it being a condition of the 2020 order. However, on Saturday, India watched as the PM released the first cheetah into Kuno. The government has introduced five female cheetahs and three male cheetahs into the sanctuary.