Sheopur, Madhya Pradesh:
After releasing the cheetah, which has been extinct in India for seven decades, in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park on his 72nd birthday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the leopard’s re-emergence would be the a good luck for the area. However, the residents of the county have little to cheer about, as the ground reality suggests they will continue to struggle after the celebrations are over.
Malnutrition and poverty are severe in the villages surrounding the forest and reserve where these cheetahs brought from Namibia will live. There is also a severe underemployment situation.
NDTV went to Kakra, one such village located between Shivpuri and Sheopur. What we saw never appeared in the national media. It is claimed that major changes will change the area when the big cats have a home there. Even if that were true, wildlife experts estimate it will take at least 20-25 years for these changes to happen. Large numbers of cheetahs are likely to draw tourists here, creating new opportunities and influencing social change. However, the near future remains bleak, when state intervention is needed.
The government of Madhya Pradesh has admitted that in Sheopur district, more than 21,000 children are suffering from malnutrition. Two weeks ago, a girl died of malnutrition in the same district. Malnutrition was officially eliminated here, as officials removed the names of starving children from the list as soon as they turned five years old.
Kakra village, where NDTV comes from, also has two-thirds of the children suffering from malnutrition.
Villagers said there were no job opportunities and extreme poverty. Children are malnourished. When asked if releasing the leopard would benefit them, they said they didn’t gain anything from it. “Their arrival will not make any difference to our situation,” they said.
In the area where Kuno National Park is located, there are about 23 villages struggling with poverty and malnutrition. Their total population is about 56,000 people.
No particular political party dominates the region electorally, and representatives from both the BJP and Congress have represented the region for decades. However, locals say even their basic needs have so far not been met.