Skip to main content

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.”


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?



Vaccine nationalism? Covaxin isn't safe either, perhaps it's worse: Experts

By Rajiv Shah  I was a little awestruck: The news had already spread that Astrazeneca – whose Indian variant Covishield was delivered to nearly 80% of Indian vaccine recipients during the Covid-19 era – has been withdrawn by the manufacturers following the admission by its UK pharma giant that its Covid-19 vector-based vaccine in “rare” instances cause TTS, or “thrombocytopenia thrombosis syndrome”, which lead to the blood to clump and form clots. The vaccine reportedly led to at least 81 deaths in the UK.

'Scientifically flawed': 22 examples of the failure of vaccine passports

By Vratesh Srivastava*   Vaccine passports were introduced in late 2021 in a number of places across the world, with the primary objective of curtailing community spread and inducing "vaccine hesitant" people to get vaccinated, ostensibly to ensure herd immunity. The case for vaccine passports was scientifically flawed and ethically questionable.

'Misleading' ads: Are our celebrities and public figures acting responsibly?

By Deepika* It is imperative for celebrities and public figures to act responsibly while endorsing a consumer product, the Supreme Court said as it recently clamped down on misleading advertisements.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

US 'frustrated' with India’s discomfort: Maritime exercise in South China Sea

By Vijay Prashad*  In early April 2024, the navies of four countries -- Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States -- held a maritime exercise in the South China Sea. Australia’s Warramunga, Japan’s Akebono, the Philippines’ Antonio Luna, and the United States’ Mobile worked together in these waters to strengthen their joint abilities and -- as they said in a joint statement  -- to “uphold the right to freedom of navigation and overflight and respect for maritime rights under international law.” 

Dadi, poti discuss 'injustice' under 10 yr Modi rule: Video campaign goes viral

By Our Representative  Watan Ki Raah Mein, a civil society campaign of the Samvidhan Bachao Nagrik Abhiyan, has released a short video conversation on social media of an exchange of letters between a dadi and her poti discussing poverty, unemployment, corruption and women’s safety. The letters also raise the question of  suppression of our fundamental rights of speech, expression and justice. 

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

India 'not keen' on legally binding global treaty to reduce plastic production

By Rajiv Shah  Even as offering lip-service to the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEA) for the need to curb plastic production, the Government of India appears reluctant in reducing the production of plastic. A senior participant at the UNEP’s fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4), which took place in Ottawa in April last week, told a plastics pollution seminar that India, along with China and Russia, did not want any legally binding agreement for curbing plastic pollution.

No compensation to family, reluctance to file FIR: Manual scavengers' death

By Arun Khote, Sanjeev Kumar*  Recently, there have been four instances of horrifying deaths of sewer/septic tank workers in Uttar Pradesh. On 2 May, 2024, Shobran Yadav, 56, and his son Sushil Yadav, 28, died from suffocation while cleaning a sewer line in Lucknow’s Wazirganj area. In another incident on 3 May 2024, two workers Nooni Mandal, 36 and Kokan Mandal aka Tapan Mandal, 40 were killed while cleaning the septic tank in a house in Noida, Sector 26. The two workers were residents of Malda district of West Bengal and lived in the slum area of Noida Sector 9.