The arrival of the cheetah on Indian soil after seven decades marks an important milestone in India’s conservation history. The same forest that saw the complete decimation of this species and the near extinction of many others is now witnessing a new kind of revival. It took political statesmanship, judicial control and oversight, diplomatic initiative, administrative acumen and, last but not least, the professional expertise of dedicated foresters and conservationists to bring the cheetah back to the national park. It must be mentioned that after independence in 1952, the first real attempt at wildlife conservation was made with the establishment of the Indian Wildlife Board, which was formed to centralize all of the wildlife conservation rules and regulations in India, which until then varied from state to state were condition. In 1956, this board passed a landmark decree that gave all existing wildlife parks the status of protected area or national park. However, it was not until the passage of the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972, followed by and Project Tiger in 1973 – the largest wildlife conservation project of its time – that India’s commitment to wildlife conservation received the legal, administrative and financial backing of the Union Government. This has been covered extensively in Jairam Ramesh’s book: Indira Gandhi ~A Life in Nature. The law is being changed to make it even more effective.
But Prime Minister Modi’s introduction of the cheetah in the seventy-fifth year of India’s independence is like breaking the rainbow of gravity. It heralds new chances and possibilities. Unless the Forest Service and its wildlife wing were professionally trained and committed to managing this transcontinental resettlement effort, the Cheetah Project may not have seen the light of day because the Supreme Court was very clear that protocols must be followed. While Project Tiger would be identified with then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Cheetah’s move with Prime Minister Modi, we take a moment to pay tribute to the officer who made this possible. The only person who thought about it, worked on it, drafted laws and moved the Supreme Court was Dr. MK Ranjitsinh Jhala of the 1961 Group of the IAS in the MP squad. A scion of the former Wankan royal family. As a mandla collector, he helped save the Central Indian Barasingha from extinction. As Secretary of Forestry and Tourism at the MP, he established fourteen new protected areas, eight new national parks and more than double the area of three existing national parks, totaling over 9,000 square kilometers. to the protected areas of the nation. He was the chief architect of the Wildlife (Protection) Act; was Director for Nature Conservation twice and also Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forests. He has been an integral part of several landmark projects including the translocation of Asiatic lions from Gujarat, the protection of the habitats of the Indian great bustard and the reintroduction of cheetahs in India.
The cheetah was officially declared extinct in India in 1952. After that, the “African Cheetah Introduction Project in India” was launched in 2009. However, only after a decade of deliberation have further developments emerged on this front. The Supreme Court appointed a three-member committee to direct and guide the resettlement plan and gave its final approval in January 2020. Subsequently, after a delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the “Action Plan for the Introduction of Cheetah in India” was published in 2022. Incidentally, it is perhaps not out of place to mention that the FRI was also the host institution for the training of four batches of the ICS – from 1940 to 1943). Among those trained with the ICS was the Maharaj Kumar of Sikkim who was a close friend of Nari Rustomji who, along with Verrier Elwin, was a key adviser to then Prime Minister Nehru on Indian border policy, particularly in relation to on trunks and forests.
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL
SANJEEV CHOPRA The writer is Director of LBS National Academy of Administration, India’s largest educational institution, and curates Valley of Words: An annual literary and arts festival in Dehradun, where he currently resides