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Modi floats Project Cheetah amidst rulers' 'disdain' for natural forests, biodiversity

Counterview Desk 

In a representation to the chairperson and members of the National Board for Wildlife, Government of India, top energy and climate change policy analyst Shankar Sharma has said that the Project Cheetah, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may be an important move, but what is forgotten is, the “obvious lack of the willingness” on the part of the authorities to “adequately protect wildlife habitats and biodiversity.”
Pointing towards the “mindset” which displays “disgust towards natural forests”, the expert insists, “as a responsible country with a great tradition of worshipping nature, India should urgently take an oath to adequately protect our natural forest lands, and to remodel our developmental paradigm with biodiversity at the centre of our focus.”

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This has reference to Project Cheetah, which was launched today by the Hon'ble Prime Minister. The PM is reported to have stated: "Project Cheetah, under which the cheetahs were reintroduced in the country after they became extinct seven decades ago, is our endeavour towards environment and wildlife conservation."
Whereas, any endeavor towards environment and wildlife conservation, is a great move by the Union government, and should be welcomed by all, there have been many contrasting opinion by wildlife conservationists w.r.t the efficacy or desirability of this particular Project Cheetah.
Irrespective of whether such opinions are fully supported by the relevant knowledge and by such experiences elsewhere or not, all such skeptic opinions can be excused because of the obvious lack of the willingness on part of our authorities to adequately protect our wildlife habitats and the biodiversity itself.
There are many reasons for such a skeptic opinion prevailing in our minds: fast dwindling areas of natural forests; never ending diversion of forest lands even within the legally protected Wildlife sanctuaries in the name of various developmental projects; increasing number of incidents of man-wildlife conflicts because of shrinking forest cover; continued planting of alien species such as Acacia in forest lands in states such as Karnataka; continued approval for projects such as high tension power lines, power projects, mining, railway lines and roads etc. within forest areas; approval for additional reservoirs in different parts of the country for the sake of hydropower dams and water storage etc.
The large number of projects approved by the National Board for Wildlife involving the diversion of thousands of hectares of forest lands within Wildlife sanctuaries during the last 10-15 years should be the evidence enough to prove our society's callousness in adequately protecting our natural wealth.
The real implications of the practice of approving a large number of projects even inside wildlife sanctuaries, leading to destruction of wildlife habitats for many kinds of endangered species, can be easily highlighted in the context of two associated media reports:
"For the country as a whole, the loss of primary forest in a five-year period between 2014-19 was more than 120,000 ha, which is nearly 36% more than such losses seen between 2009 and 2013... Over 500 projects in India’s protected areas and eco-sensitive zones were cleared by the National Board of Wildlife between June 2014 and May 2018.”
It seems such wanton destruction of our forest wealth which seem to have made many environmentalists to view the general approach of the concerned authorities as the one bordering on hatred towards wildlife and wildlife habitats. There is a critical need to undertake massive efforts to change such unfortunate mistrust towards the concerned authorities.
As against the National Forest Policy target of 33% of land area to be covered by forests and trees, the present scenario is only about 23%; that too because of the inclusion of large chunks of lands covered by plantation trees and by alien species.
In such a scenario, and with a mindset of our authorities indicating almost a disgust towards natural forests, it should be anybody's guess as to when will our country achieve a level of adequate area and richness of forest wealth to support the wildlife on a sustainable basis. It is in this context that many wildlife conservationists may be expressing their apprehension about the Project Cheetah.
They are of the opinion that as a responsible country with a great tradition of worshipping nature, India should urgently take an oath to adequately protect our natural forest lands, and to remodel our developmental paradigm with biodiversity at the center of our focus.
Until such time many of the truly concerned wildlife conservationists may tend to view this project without much hope. Some may even deem it as a sort of "tamasha" as one political party has stated; and also as a waste of public money.
Until a conscious decision, and also preferably a legal requirement, not to permit any diversion of the forest lands until the National Forest Policy target of 33% forest area is exceeded by a good margin is taken, there seems very little chance of adequately protecting our wildlife habitats.  Hence "our endeavour towards environment and wildlife conservation" is likely to remain only on paper.
On this occasion, can our people hope to see early a paradigm shift in "our endeavour towards environment and wildlife conservation", along with a clear commitment which can also be corroborated periodically through reliable statistics, and policy frame work?

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