1. Whether India should import Cheetahs or not
Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Environment & Biodiversity
The Supreme Court’s recent green light to introduction of African cheetahs in a suitable area in India has revived a decade-long debate over the controversial plan first floated in 2009 and shot down by the court in 2013.
Why the plan was rejected earlier?
To appreciate the cheetah question, one needs to look at the lion parallel. One of the reasons the Supreme Court scrapped the cheetah plan in 2013 was the lopsided focus on flying in an exotic species, as a replacement for what was long gone, at the cost of undermining the future of an indigenous species that is still around.
Position of Cheetahs in India
The last cheetahs in the Indian wild were gunned down in 1947. The few surviving in captivity perished soon after, making it the only large carnivore to have gone extinct in India. The last wild population of the Asiatic lion, on the other hand, survives in Gujarat’s Gir where the cat is only a natural calamity or an epidemic away from meeting same fate as the cheetah. The plan to secure the lions in a second home has been hanging fire since 1993.
Then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, in 2009, floated plan to import Cheetahs. After Iran refused to part with any of its few surviving Asiatic cheetahs, the focus turned to the African variety. By September 2010, India’s cheetah plan was ready and the Centre approved Rs 50 crore for the programme in August 2011.
SC putting brakes on the plan
The matter came up before the Supreme Court during a hearing on shifting a few lions from Gujarat to Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh, which was also one of the sites identified for releasing cheetahs. In May 2012, the court stayed the cheetah plan, and in April 2013, it ordered translocation of lions from Gujarat while quashing the plan for introducing African cheetahs to Kuno-Palpur.
Revival of Cheetah plan
The cheetah plan was revived in 2017 when the government sought permission from the Supreme Court to explore possibilities “in conformity with the applicable law to reintroduce cheetahs from Africa to suitable sites” other than Kuno-Palpur. By then, the lion translocation project was put on the back-burner again.
In April 2013, the Supreme Court had set a six-month deadline for translocating lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh. Between July 2013 and December 2016, the government convened six meetings of the expert committee set up for the lion project. Nothing has moved since.
Instead, the third National Wildlife Action Plan (2017-2031) released in 2017 said that the identification of an alternative home and drawing up a conservation plan for the Asiatic lion will be completed during 2018-2021. Then, Kuno resurfaced as a potential cheetah site in the court.
It is unlikely though that Kuno will get cheetahs. Much of its grasslands that were created by relocating villages have naturally progressed to woodlands not suitable for the African import. While the sanctuary has spotted deer and feral cattle in good numbers, there is barely any presence of the four-horned antelope, chinkara or blackbuck – all potential prey for the cheetah.
The argument behind introducing Cheetah
In saving the cheetah, claimed the proponents of the reintroduction plan, one would also save other endangered species of the grassland, such as the endangered Indian wolf and the near-extinct great Indian bustard (GIB). In the umbrella-approach of conservation, multiple species in a forest (tiger reserve, for instance) is protected in the name of a flagship species (i.e. tiger). It is inexplicable, though, as to why one must introduce an exotic replacement for an extinct species to save indigenous species.
Wolves, for example, are the keystone species in Nauradehi and would have to compete with cheetahs. The majestic GIB is a potential prey for the cheetah. In fact, the project excluded Jaisalmer’s Desert National Park because “putting the cheetah in with the bustard cannot be contemplated at all, because of the threat to this most gravely endangered bird”. And yet, it recommended erstwhile GIB habitats for the cheetah, in effect denying the bird any chance of habitat recovery.
The priority species
The GIB is not the only species staring down the barrel. The government has identified 20 others – such as the Asian wild buffalo, Jerdon’s courser, red panda and Asiatic lion – that need immediate help to survive. Barring 50 reserves under Project Tiger, all wildlife habitats of the country and the 21 beleaguered species merited a total allocation of Rs 497 crore between 2017-18 and 2019-20. That is Rs 166 crore a year.
A decade ago, the cost of the cheetah project was pegged at Rs 300 crore in the first year alone. In Nauradehi, merely constructing a 150-sq km cheetah enclosure will cost Rs 25-30 crore. To this, compare the recent sanctions of Rs 5 lakh for the Greater adjutant in Gangetic riverine tract in Bhagalpur, Bihar; Rs 1.22 crore for establishing a conservation breeding centre for wild buffaloes in Chhattisgarh; or Rs 3.87 crore for a snow leopard recovery programme in Ladakh.
This raises several questions. Can India’s meagre conservation resources afford to splurge on hosting a few imported animals? Even if the cheetah programme finds an international sponsor, should India’s understaffed and inadequate wildlife management cadre be stretched for a vanity project? Even if a few African cheetahs survive, as they well might inside an enclosure and supplied with prey, what conservation purpose will they serve? And what future will they have once out in the open in a country teeming with people, livestock and feral dogs?
The three-member expert panel will examine these issues in the next four months for the government to reach a considered decision. Meanwhile, as the policy dash for the fastest land animal is being cheered, the lions are running out of time.
Source: The Indian Express
2. Why wetlands matter to world and India
Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Environment & Biodiversity
Sunday, February 2, was World Wetlands Day. It was on this date in 1971 that the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands was adopted in Ramsar, Iran. Only last week, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change had announced that the Ramsar Convention had declared 10 wetlands from India as sites of “international importance”, taking the total number of Ramsar Sites in the country to 37.
Why the focus on wetlands?
The Ramsar Convention definition for wetlands includes marshes, floodplains, rivers and lakes, mangroves, coral reefs and other marine areas no deeper than 6 metres at low tide, as well as human-made wetlands such as waste-water treatment ponds and reservoirs.
The IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) the global assessment identified wetlands as the most threatened ecosystem. This impacts 40% of the world’s plant and animal species that live or breed in wetlands, according to UNESCO. Thirty per cent of land-based carbon is stored in peatland; one billion people depend on wetlands for their livelihoods; and wetlands provide $47 trillion in essential services annually, according to the Wetlands Day official website.
This year’s Wetlands Day theme is Wetlands and Biodiversity.
What is the status of wetlands in India?
India has over 7 lakh wetlands and rules for their protection; yet not one of the wetlands has been notified under domestic laws, according to environmentalist Anand Arya, a petitioner in a Supreme Court case on wetlands.
Wetlands are regulated under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017. The 2010 version of the Rules provided for a Central Wetland Regulatory Authority; the 2017 Rules replace it with state-level bodies and created a National Wetland Committee, which functions in an advisory role. The newer regulations removed some items from the definition of “wetlands” including backwaters, lagoon, creeks, and estuaries.
“The 2010 Rules required States to identify and prepare Brief Documents, submit them to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, which was to notify them. Under the 2017 regulations, the whole process has been delegated to States,” Arya told The Indian Express.
“We have a total of 7,57,060 wetlands, covering 1.6 crore hectares or 4.5% of India’s area. In February 2017, the Court extended protection to 2,01,503 of these under Rule 4 of the 2010 Rules, and ordered authorities to notify sites. The wetlands were supposed to have been notified by March 25, 2019, 180 days after the 2017 Rules went into force (September 26, 2017). Yet so far, not a single wetland has been notified,” Arya said. The 2,01,503 wetlands, measuring over 2.25 hectares, were identified using ISRO’s satellite imagery.
In October 2017, the Supreme Court expressed concern over the disappearance of wetlands, and observed, “If there are no wetlands left, it will affect agriculture and several other things. It is a very, very important issue.”
What does being a Ramsar Site mean?
The designation is for “Wetlands of International Importance”. “They are recognised as being of significant value not only for the country or the countries in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole… The inclusion of a wetland in the list embodies the government’s commitment to take the steps necessary to ensure that its ecological character is maintained. The Convention includes various measures to respond to threats to the ecological character of Sites,” the Ramsar Convention website said.
The selection is made on the basis of various criteria defined under the convention. Article 2.2 says: “Wetlands should be selected for the List on account of their international significance in terms of ecology, botany, zoology, limnology or hydrology.”
There are currently over 2,300 Ramsar Sites around the world, covering over 2.1 million square km.
In India, the 10 new wetlands declared Ramsar Sites are Nandur Madhameshwar in Maharashtra; Keshopur-Miani, Beas Conservation Reserve and Nangal in Punjab; and Nawabganj, Parvati Agra, Saman, Samaspur, Sandi and Sarsai Nawar in UP.
On the newly identified Ramsar Sites, Arya said, “Until days ago, out of the 7,57,060 wetlands in the country, only 27 sites were protected. Now there are 10 more. Where are we as far as protection efforts are concerned?”
Source: The Indian Express
3. Shaheen Bagh protest
Relevant for GS Prelims
The Shaheen Bagh protest is an ongoing 24/7 sit-in peaceful protest, led by women, that began with the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in both houses of Parliament on 11 December 2019 and the ensuing police intervention against students at Jamia Millia Islamia who were opposing the Amendment. Mainly consisting of Muslim women, the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, since 15 December 2019, have blocked a major highway in New Delhi using non-violent resistance for 50 days now as of 3 February 2020. It has now become the longest ongoing continuous protest against CAA-NRC-NPR.
The leaderless protest now is not only against CAA and police brutality but also against the BJP government in general. The protesters have also supported unions opposing the government’s “anti-labour policies” and have protested against recent happenings such as the 2020 JNU attack as well as shown solidarity with Kashmiri Pandits.
Impact of Protest
The blocked road affects more than 100,000 vehicles a day with some 25 – 30minute journeys taking 2 – 3 hours. As the area is also a border point into the capital, thousands of trucks are being diverted to other border points.
Response of administration
Four petitions have been filed to stop the blockade. The Delhi High Court refused to hear the first two pleas and on 14 January 2020 said this is a police matter. The Delhi Police have said they will use “persuasion” and won’t use force to end the blockade. Notably, the protesters are also protesting against police brutality and government apathy. However, the leaderless nature of the protests are making it harder for the police to take action and the protesters have refused to move. A third petition was filed on 18 January 2020, highlighting the difficulty students are facing, as well as the coming board examinations; the High Court accordingly directed the police to look into it. The matter has also reached the Supreme Court.
Source: The Wikipedia
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