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Study 'finds' extinct cheetahs in Telangana

EIA reports are mandatory for large-scale projects to assess their impact on ecology and form a crucial component in helping the environment ministry's sectoral expert panels for project appraisal and to decide if they should or should not get an environmental clearance.

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If the Kaleshwaram irrigation project's Environment Impact Assessment report is to be believed, cheetahs, the wild cat species declared extinct in 1952, are well and alive in the country. In a glaring error, the EIA report of the Telangana government project, prepared by the Environment Protection Training and Research Institute (EPTRI), has stated that cheetahs are found in the report's study area in Telangana, along side leopards and marsh crocodiles.

What's more, the environment ministry cleared the project based on the same erroneous report on December 22 last year.

EIA reports are mandatory for large-scale projects to assess their impact on ecology and form a crucial component in helping the environment ministry's sectoral expert panels for project appraisal and to decide if they should or should not get an environmental clearance.

In the EIA report prepared by EPTRI, the occurrence of cheetahs is mentioned under the section — 'Biodiversity and Wildlife Conservation and Management Plan'. The report does not stop at merely mentioning occurrence of the extinct wild cats, but also goes on to recommend that their existing population should be rehabilitated. The last pair of cheetahs were hunted in 1947 and were declared extinct in India in 1952.

As of today, Asiatic cheetahs are only found in Iran and are on the brink of extinction, too.

EPTRI, an independent registered society established by the former state government of undivided Andhra Pradesh, attributed the error to oversight on the data collected from secondary sources.

"During the EIA survey, some information is collected from local sources, including the villagers. There must have been some misinterpretation while collating the data and this should have been deleted from the report," said Professor SC Santra who was associated in the preparation of the EIA report as an advisor on ecology.

He claimed, though, that the presentation made to the environment ministry's expert panel did not include the erroneous portion. Environment ministry officials could not be reached for comment.

The mistake in Kaleshwaram's EIA report is not an aberration as far as blunders and oversight in EIA reports are concerned. Recently, the EIA report for the 3,087MW Etalin Hydel Project in Dibang valley, Arunachal Pradesh, was found wanting as it did not document the rich biodiversity of the region and the crucial fact that tigers habited the project area. The Forest Advisory Committee of the environment ministry recommended fresh impact studies for the project's appraisal.

The Rs 80,500 crore Kaleshwaram project is a lift irrigation project to be jointly implemented by Telangana and Maharashtra. It will involve construction of barrages on the Godavari to provide irrigation across 13 districts and needs 3,168 hectares of forest. The project had already courted controversy last year as the National Green Tribunal stayed the project on grounds that work had begun without prior environmental clearances. The stay, though, was later lifted by Telangana and Andhra Pradesh High Court.

Wild conclusions

  • The occurrence of cheetahs is mentioned in the EIA report under the section ‘Biodiversity and Wildlife Conservation and Management Plan’. 
  • The report goes on to recommend that the “existing population” of the wild cat should be rehabilitated. 
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