Bagcha villagers fight to protect their rights in cheetah reintroduction project

We want our rightful share, no matter if you bring cheetahs and lions. We are leaving our home, we must all go,” Guttu Adivasi, a Sheopur resident, says, “We’re leaving our birthplace. Either we all leave together, or nobody will.” He is the last Kuno-Palpur National Park village that has to be moved before the African guests arrive.

The process for relocating the last village within the park’s 748-sq-km core has been expedited with the Namibian cheetahs set to arrive at Kuno-Palpur National Park Saturday. Bagcha residents are stepping up their resistance, demanding compensation for all villagers. They claim that the names of 70 people have been wrongly left out to receive benefits.

Gutti’s fight is to prove that Rambabu (19) is still alive to the district administration. After being declared “dead”, Rambabu’s name was removed from the beneficiaries list. I even obtained a doctor’s certificate that Rambabu was alive and well, but they refused to listen. “We were told by the district administration that a doctor would be sent and only then would it be accepted,” Gutti, whose family has lived in Bagcha for three generations, said.

In 2014, Bagcha was announced for relocation. It is a small hamlet of 128 households and 556 people according to the 2011 census. Kuno-Palpur, which was originally declared a sanctuary in 1981, was chosen as a location for the introduction of Asiatic lions to Gujarat’s Gir National Park. Between 1998 and 2003, 24 villages were moved outside of the protected area. Although the lions did not arrive, Kuno-Palpur sanctuary was declared a National Park in 2018. In 2018, Bagcha was relocated again.

Bagcha village, located in the Sheopur district’s Vijaypur Block, is dominated and populated by Sahariya Sadivasis who fall under the Particularly Vicious Tribal Group (PVTG). Gutti’s main source of income is the sale of forest products such as resin from chir trees and ‘tendu leaves.

Gutti is not the only one who submitted an “aapati” letter to Sheopur district collector in protest at their names being incorrectly removed from the list.

Shrilal Adivasi, who has lived in Bagcha for over 20 years, found his name missing on the beneficiary list. Shrilal stated, “I came and settled in Bagcha around 20 years ago when I married Omvati, who was a resident from Bagcha. But despite having lived here for more than 20 years, I’m still not considered a niwasi [resident]”.

Sitaram, another villager, said that his ancestors had died without electricity or water. Now, he and Sitaram want to make their children’s lives better. Sitaram added, “Now we want to give them a better future. For which we must prove our domicile.” According to Sitaram, the village only had an electricity connection two years ago. He said that although the village has a one-room school, it does not have government-appointed teachers.

Officials claim that each family will receive a Rs 15 lakh relief package. This includes a two-hectare parcel of land for agriculture, land to construct a house, and facilities such as drinking water, roads, drinking water, cremation, burial ground, and more.

“It was decided that a committee would be formed after the cheetahs have been released. All the 70 or so applications we received will be examined for eligibility. DFO Verma stated that genuine beneficiaries will not be denied their rights.

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