In a new twist to the ongoing tussle between employees of the Dudhwa National Park and Lakhimpur Kheri’s District Magistrate Kinjal Singh, local ruling party leader Rehan Khan opened a front against the forest staff alleging that officers are trying to spoil the image of the Samajwadi Party and of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav by closing the gates of the park repeatedly.
On Wednesday, Khan and his supporters allegedly entered the park premises and burnt the effigy of its Deputy Director P P Singh. Khan hails from Lakhimpur Kheri and is a member of the SP’s minority wing’s state executive committee.
While forest officials claimed to have lodged a case against Rehan and 250 others with the Chief Judicial Magistrate Court of Lakhimpur under various sections of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, Khan claims he has sought time from the CM to present his case and inform him about the “acts of the forest officers”.
Even as Khan claims to be doing this for “public welfare” and for the “image” of his party, president of the SP’s state minority wing, Fida Hussain, maintained distance from the leader’s initiative. “He is our executive member but this is his own stand as he belongs to that area. We have not taken cognizance of it,” Hussain told The Indian Express.
Khan, on the other hand, is adamant and says if the case against him was not withdrawn, he would stage a sit-in protest at Dudhwa. “In this entire case, forest officials are at fault because it is on the direction of few officers that these employees are closing the gates of Dudhwa National Park again and again. They claim to have differences with the DM (Kinjal Singh) but I feel they are tarnishing the image of the Samajwadi Party in front of the tourists coming from other states as this is the peak season,” Khan said.
As for the case against him, he claimed, “I did not take the effigy there. In fact, it was the effigy of the CM that the forest staff had already brought with themselves. They wanted to burn it but we took it from them and instead put the name of Dudhwa’s deputy director on it and set it on fire. Moreover, all this happened outside the park gates.”
Refusing his claim, forest staff alleged “these protesters” had come well-prepared carrying plaque of “Save Dudhwa, remove P P Singh”.
Ram Kumar, Forester, Dudhwa, informed that the case has been filed against Rehan Khan and some 250 unidentified people under Sections 2, 9, 27, 29, 30, 31, 35(6), 51(1) of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
These sections include restriction in entry to the sanctuary without permission, prohibition from lightning any fire in the sanctuary as well as prohibition from carrying weapons inside the sanctuary along with defining the penalty for these offences that may extend up to three years of imprisonment on conviction.
Meanwhile, as the forest staff continued with the protest on the second day, the state government Thursday ordered an inquiry to be conducted by an IFS officer into the entire dispute between Kinjal Singh and P P Singh.
Speaking to The Indian Express, P P Singh confirmed the development and said, “Today, senior IFS officer Diwakar Kumar called me to record my statement and told me that he has been made the inquiry officer.”
Asked about his effigy burnt by the SP leader, Singh said, “I am surprised with the way he came out to protest, especially since he has been a forest Act offender in the past. Nonetheless, a case has been filed against him and others who trespassed the restricted area and lighted the fire against the rules.”
“We have been assured by the state government that there would no longer be any action on the employees just because they raised their voice against the DM. We have also been assured that inquiry would be conducted into the entire issue by senior IFS officer Diwakar Kumar, who is Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests,” said Amit Srivastava, general secretary of the UP Sahayak Van Karamchari Sangh.
While gates of the Dudhwa National Park were opened during the second shift Thursday after assurance from the government, Srivastava said the protest has not been called off and has only been postponed till the inquiry is over.