“Whether bring cheetahs or lions, we want our rightful share. We are leaving our birthplace, either we all leave together or nobody will,” says a resolute, Guttu Adivasi, a resident of Sheopur’s Bagcha village, the last village inside Kuno-Palpur National Park that remains to be relocated ahead of the African guests arrive.
With Namibian cheetahs all set to reach Kuno-Palpur National Park on Saturday, the process of relocating the last village inside the 748-sq-km core area of park has been expedited. At the same time, Bagcha residents have intensified their fight, demanding compensation to all the villagers, saying the names of about 70 residents have been wrongly omitted for benefits.
For Gutti, the fight is to prove to the district administration that his son, Rambabu, 19, is alive. Rambabu’s name was dropped from the list of beneficiaries after being marked as “dead”. “I even got a doctor’s note that Rambabu is alive and healthy, but they did not listen to us. We were told that the district administration will send a doctor and only then will it be accepted,” says Gutti whose family has been living in Bagcha for three generations.
The relocation of Bagcha, a tiny hamlet with 128 household and a population of 556 as per the 2011 census was first announced in 2014. Kuno-Palpur was first declared a sanctuary in 1981 and selected as a site for introducing Asiatic lions from Gujarat’s Gir National Park. Owing to this, 24 villages were relocated outside the protected area between 1998 to 2003. While the lions never arrived, Kuno-Palpur sanctuary became a National Park in 2018 and move to relocate Bagcha once again picked pace.
On the edge of Sheopur district’s Vijaypur block, Bagcha village is dominated by Sahariya adivasis falling under the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG). Main source of income for Gutti and others is sale of forest produce such as resin from ‘chir’ trees along with ‘tendu’ leaves.
Along with Gutti, 70 odd villagers of Bagcha have submitted an ‘aapati’ letter to Sheopur district collector over their names being wrongly dropped from the list.
Shrilal Adivasi has been living in Bagcha for the past two decades and he found his name missing from the beneficiary list. “I come and settled in Bagcha about 20 years when I married Omvati who was a resident of Bagcha…but despite living here for over 20 years, I’m not being considered a niwasi [resident],” said Shrilal.
“Our ancestors died here without access to electricity and water…now we want to give our children a better future, for which we have to prove our domicile,” says Sitaram, another villager. He said it was only two years ago that the village got a electricity connection. Though a one-room school in the village offers education till Class 5, there are no government-appointed teachers, he added.
According to officials, each family is being given a Rs 15-lakh relief package, including a two-hectare land parcel for agriculture, land for constructing house, facilities such as road, drinking water, irrigation, place of worship and cremation and burial ground, etc.
“It has been decided that a committee will be constituted after the cheetahs are released and all the 70 odd applications that we have received will be looked into for their eligibility. None of genuine beneficiaries will be denied their rights,” said DFO Verma.