The politics around India’s cheetah relocation project

Congress against BJP: The politics surrounding India’s cheetah resettlement project

Written by
Priyali Dhingra

09/18/2022, 3:11 p.m
4 minutes read

Congress against BJP: The politics surrounding India's cheetah resettlement project
India’s Project Cheetah has been in development for 12 years.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi released eight cheetahs flown into Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh from Namibia on Saturday.

However, the Prime Minister’s “Project Cheetah” sparked a bitter political battle with Congress, which said the seed for this project was planted in 2010 under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

As Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) compete, learn more about India’s “cheetah politics” here.

Why is this story important?

  • The cheetah – the world’s fastest land animal, capable of speeds of over 110 kilometers per hour – became extinct in India in 1952 due to habitat loss and overhunting.
  • It is listed as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. There are fewer than 7,000 cheetahs worldwide, mostly in the African savannas.

Hours after the Prime Minister’s ceremony, Congress claims recognition

On Saturday night, with a picture of MP Jairam Ramesh petting a cheetah, Congress tweeted that the proposal was originally prepared under the UPA administration.

It said: “The proposal for ‘Project Cheetah’ was prepared in 2008-09… In April 2010, then Minister for Forests and Environment Jairam Ramesh went to the Cheetah Outreach Center in Africa.”

However, the Supreme Court ordered a stay in 2012.

But what is the story of Project Cheetah?

It has taken 12 years for cheetahs to return to India.

The Congressional government proposed in 2010 to fly African cheetahs to India and relocate them to various wildlife sanctuaries where they had previously been found but were now extinct.

However, in 2012 a petition was filed in the Supreme Court against MP’s importing cheetahs from Namibia and translocating them to the Kono Wildlife Sanctuary.

Some background on conservation efforts

In 1995, a petition from the Center for the Environment Law challenged the Indian government’s wildlife conservation efforts and called for the SC to monitor it.

In 2012, the lawsuit against Project Cheetah was filed by the Amicus Curiae in the PS Narasimha case.

The pleading stated that the Kuno Palpur Conservation Area had been designated as a translocation site for Asiatic lions from the Gir Conservation Area.

Corresponding India todayNarasimha said that the Environment Ministry’s decision to introduce African cheetahs into the same habitat as lions “was not submitted to the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), nor was a decision made in this regard.”

As a result, a two-judge panel overturned the Singh government’s decision in 2013.

What did the SC say when they canceled the project?

The SC reportedly insisted that a detailed scientific study must be carried out before “an alien species” is introduced to India.

“The ministry’s decision to introduce first African cheetahs and then the Asiatic lion into Kuno is arbitrary and illegal. It is a clear violation of the legal requirements of the Species Protection Act,” the Supreme Court decided.

Plea in SC to review decision

After spending many years in cold storage, Project Cheetah was revived in 2017 by an SC plea.

The petition argued that the government had conducted a feasibility study and consulted the NBWL, which reviewed the proposal in September 2012.

The plea involved a 2010 report by two wildlife trusts that assessed 10 sites in five states to determine habitat and viability.

After two years, the SC-Bank, led by Chief Justice SA Bobde, allowed the government to start the project on a trial basis.

“It is suggested that African cheetahs should be introduced on an experimental basis…to see if they can adapt to Indian conditions,” the bank instructed.

The court also appointed a three-person panel of experts to oversee the project.

Observe: Cheetah released in Kono

No reports submitted by the panel

No hearings were held after 2020, nor did the court clarify whether the panel of experts submitted reports, which was a condition of the 2020 order.

On Saturday, however, India watched as the Prime Minister released the first cheetah in Kono.

The government has introduced five female and three male cheetahs to the sanctuary.

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