Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Sunday criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for saying that no constructive efforts were made by previous governments to reintroduce cheetahs into India after they became extinct in the country seven decades ago.

The prime minister made the comments on Saturday after eight cheetahs arrived in India from Namibia, home to one of the world’s largest populations of wild cats. The entry of the cheetahs was timed for Modi’s 72nd birthday, which he celebrated on Saturday by releasing them into special enclosures in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park.

“It is unfortunate that we declared cheetahs extinct in 1952, but for decades no constructive efforts were made to reintroduce them in India,” Modi had said. “Now, with new strength and vigour, the country has embarked on the project of reviving the population of cheetahs during this Amrit Kaal.”

But on Sunday, senior Congress leader and the party’s communications head Jairam Ramesh said the prime minister is a “pathological liar”.

Ramesh made public a letter from 2009, when he was the minister for environment and forests. In the letter, he had asked a functionary of the Wildlife Trust of India to prepare a detailed roadmap to reintroduce cheetahs and include an analysis of potential sites.

With the cheetah introduction project, scientists want to establish whether a predator population could be restored in a place where it was hunted to extinction.

In 2012, the Supreme Court stayed the United Progressive Alliance government’s plan to bring African cheetahs to Kuno. But in 2017, the court lifted its stay, stating that a proper survey should be done to identify the best possible habitat for the animals.