Cheetahs at Kuno National Park: Optimism and fear among MP villagers

Asked about the hope that the cheetahs will bring more tourists, one of the villagers claimed the hospitality business will be run by "rich outsiders" and local residents will only get menial jobs in hotels and restaurants.

Cheetahs, Freddie and Alton, KNP, Namibia
The last cheetah died in India in Koria district of present-day Chhattisgarh in 1947 and the species was declared extinct in 1952. File photo

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi released eight cheetahs in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park on Saturday (September 17), the villagers in surrounding areas of Sheopur district have raised concerns over land acquisition and also the fear of the fastest land animal.

However, there are some people who are optimistic that once Kuno National Park (KNP) becomes famous for its cheetahs from Namibia, increased tourist footfall will create jobs.

PM Modi released the cheetahs into a quarantine enclosure at the KNP as part of a project to revive the population of the animal which became extinct in India in 1952.

Also read: PM releases big cats; radio-collared cheetahs being monitored 24/7


“What will happen to my small food outlet when the remaining four-five villages are shifted for the park? We are already affected financially because of the relocation of 25 villages for the Kuno Park over the last 15 years,” said Radheshyam Yadav, a vendor selling snacks and tea on Sheopur-Shivpuri road, told PTI.

Fear of losing livelihood

His shop is at Sesaipura, 15 km from the KNP. Ramkumar Gurjar, a farmer, has apprehension that the people of Sesaipura will lose their livelihood due to a nearby dam project.

“Villages were shifted earlier for the national park. Now a dam project is coming up on the Kuno river in nearby Katila area. This project is going to affect at least 50 villages that are connected to Sesaipura. After their shifting, what will happen to grocery, clothes and other small business outlets in Sesaipura? Our village will then be left alone here,” Gurjar said.

Asked about the hope that the cheetahs will bring more tourists, he claimed the hospitality business will be run by “rich outsiders” and local residents will only get menial jobs in hotels and restaurants.

Also read: 8 cheetahs have come, why didn’t 16 crore jobs come in 8 years? Rahul’s jibe at PM

Santosh Gurjar, another resident, said following the shifting of villages, a local shopkeeper who sold groceries, fertilizer and seeds had to move to Shivpuri for lack of business.

Dharmendra Kumar Ojha, who runs a clothes shop, apprehended that cheetahs may enter the villages. “What will the local people get from this project? Outsiders are buying land for hotels and restaurants. The relocation of villages will further affect the business. But the project will bring infrastructural development,” Ojha said.

Surat Singh Yadav, who runs a tea shop on the road leading to the national park, believes the cheetah reintroduction project will generate employment in the area.

“Land prices are going up…those having the legal title of land are asking for higher prices. There is a temporary jump in the business due to the PM’s programme but I cannot say about the future,” he said.

Also read: Modi a pathological liar; Project Cheetah introduced by UPA in 2009: Jairam Ramesh

Land prices shoot up

Another shopkeeper, Keshav Sharma, claimed his business has grown three times.

“Land prices have gone up…tourists used to come here in small numbers earlier but their numbers will certainly go up now,” he said. Kailash, a labourer and resident of village Tiktoli, two km from the KNP’s entry gate, was nervous about the future.

“I don’t know about benefits, but I am afraid because the cheetah has come here. Where will we go?” he wondered. Kamal, who belongs to Tiktoli and currently lives in Sheopur, said the village has no water supply, telephone network and jobs and the only source of livelihood is subsistence farming.

“The news of the arrival of cheetahs to the KNP has raised land rates in our village from ₹2.5 lakh per bigha to around ₹10 lakh a bigha. Several property dealers from Sheopur district as well as neighbouring Shivpuri have been frequenting the village or making calls on behalf of major buyers from the state as well as outside who want to start resorts or hotels,” Ram Kishan from Moravan village told New Indian Express.

(With Agency inputs)