The Supreme Court today stayed the implementation of the Cheetah Reintroduction Programme by which the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had proposed to import the African large-sized feline to India.
A forest bench comprising justices K S Radhakrishan and C K Prasad restrained the government from going ahead with the Rs 300 crore project in the wake of questions being raised that a "totally misconceived" venture was pushed without consulting that National Board for Wildlife (NBW) which is a statutory body for the enforcement of the Wild Life law. .
The issue of relocating Cheetah from Namibia was raised during the hearing of the matter on reintroduction of Asiatic Lions from Gujarat's Gir National Park and Sanctuary and surrounding areas to Palpur Kuno Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh pursuant to a decision taken by the NBW.
During its hearings, the bench was informed that MoEF has decided to introduce African Cheetahs from Namibia into the same proposed habitat prompting senior advocate P S Narasimha, the amicus curiae in the case, to file an application seeking a stay on the implementation of the same.
Narasimha said the proposal for reintroduction of Cheetah "has not been either placed before the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife, nor has there been a considered decision taken in this regard".
He stated in an application that "scientific studies show that the African Cheetahs and Asian
Cheetahs are completely different, both genetically and also in their characteristics" and the reintroduction of Cheetah was also against the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines on translocation of wildlife species.
"In fact, the (IUCN) guidelines categorically warn against the introduction of alien or exotic species. The African Cheetah obviously never existed in India. Therefore, it is not case of intentional movement of an organism into a part of its native range," the application stated.
Asiatic Cheetah became extinct in the country in the 1950's. In July 2010, the Environment Ministry had cleared the proposal to reintroduce African Cheetah to India.
The Centre had recently sanctioned first tranche of Rs 1.9 crore to Madhya Pradesh for preparation of the habitat for for the animal at Palpur-Kuna sanctuary in Sheopur district.
Narasimha pointed out that Prerna Bindra, a Member of the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife has "categorically opposed the Cheetah project, on rational and logical consideration".
"She has pointed out that Rs 300 crores have been allocated for the Cheetah project and the cost of each cheetah is going to be Rs two crore whereas the total budget for Project Tiger is a mere Rs 80 crore for 600 national parks and sanctuaries," it said.
He added that the Director General Forests/Special Secretary, MoEF P J Dilip Kumar had a given "strong note" against introduction of African Cheetah into India but it was ignored and not even mentioned in any of the proceedings dealing with this project.
It said that the introduction of alien or exotic species is universally shunned by wildlife experts and "in fact countries such as South Africa, Australia are spending huge amount of funds to eradicate and remove exotic wildlife species from wilderness areas or wild
Narasimha also sought a direction the MoEF to produce before the apex court all relevant records and decisions relating to introduction of cheetah.
He said the Indian Cheetah in genetic composition is a different animal than the African Cheetah and a different sub species altogether and "therefore one cannot be introduced in place of the other".