The environment ministry’s ‘in principle’ approval to relocate cheetahs from South Africa to India became a cause for a verbal duel between environment minister Jairam Ramesh and former environment minister Maneka Gandhi on Tuesday.
This took place at the first meeting of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the regulatory body to protect tigers. Ramesh chaired the meeting, while Gandhi is a member.
It started with Gandhi reportedly denouncing the plan to relocate cheetahs into the wild, 60 years after they went extinct from India. “It has no meaning,” she said. “When the government cannot protect endangered species like tigers, leopards and snow leopards, how can cheetahs be safe in India?”
She also pointed out that scientifically relocation of cheetah’s was not possible.
To this, Ramesh asked her to come up with a proposal decrying the relocation plan. “If you have some scientific data on non-possibility of long distance relocation of cheetahs, please provide it to us. We will examine it,” he said.
In September, wildlife experts from across the world had expressed reservation on relocation of cheetahs to four sites identified by the Wildlife Trust of India, an NGO, which has sought the government’s permission to bring cheetah’s from Africa to India.
Gandhi, however, offered her help to make Madhya Pradesh government sign a tripartite agreement with the Centre on conservation of tigers.
The state has the largest number of tigers in India, but the big cat have vanished from Panna tiger reserve, about 350 kms north of Bhopal.
“We will not release funds to the state for its five reserves this year unless the government signs the tripartite agreement and promises accountability in tiger conservation efforts,” a senior ministry official said.