Until September 2003, Ram Lakhan Singh was one of the best known Indian Forest Service officers then serving, with a PhD in wildlife management from Australian National University and the experience of having served in posts ranging from founder director of Dudhwa National Park to director of India’s Project Tiger and UP’s principal chief conservator of forests.
Singh is the officer who had stood up to the Mulayam Singh Yadav government in 2003, refusing to denotify a bird sanctuary, and who subsequently fought a 12-year battle against corruption charges slapped by the government. The battle culminated this week with the Supreme Court asking the UP government to pay Singh Rs 10 lakh as compensation for having framed him.
In September 2003, a year and three months from retirement, Singh was nominated a member to the National Board for Wildlife for three years. He told The Indian Express he went to meet Mulayam, then chief minister and forest minister, who asked him to move a proposal denotifying the 427 hectares where Benti Bird Sanctuary stood. Such changes need the board’s permission.
“Mulayam said the land belonged to MLA Raja Bhaiya but the previous government under Mayawati had wrongly declared it a bird sanctuary. I told him the Pratapgarh collector had said it was government land,” Singh said. The value of the land, then Rs 30 crore, is estimated at over Rs 100 crore now.
Singh was removed as principal chief conservator on November 19, 2003, and a vigilance inquiry ordered against him the next day. He said the complaint was submitted by an SP MLA, and he moved the high court challenging it on the ground that a vigilance inquiry needs the recommendation of the Vigilance Committee headed by the chief secretary. The court asked the government to follow this procedure.
Singh said a lawyer associated with the then advocate-general filed a PIL, heard on June 25, 2004, claiming that the chief secretary-headed Vigilance Committee did conduct an inquiry. “The high court ruled in the lawyer’s favour,” Singh said.
An FIR was lodged the same day, alleging Singh had acquired disproportionate assets, helped illegal mining and had been wrongly involved in the auction of tendu leaves. “The same night, police raided my house. I was in Delhi but my wife was questioned,” he said.
He writes of the raid in Meri Nyaya Yatra, a booklet he plans to publish as a book. He writes that the search went on from midnight to 4 am and his wife was made to stand all the time, revolvers pressed to her temple by policemen who alleged they suspected a sex racket was running from the house.
On July 5, 2004, Singh was arrested from New Delhi railway station and was lodged in jail until July 16 when a court grated him bail. The IFS officer of 1969 was under suspension when he retired on December 31, 2004.
That September, he approached the Supreme Court alleging that the state government was influencing the high court. Eventually, a new bench was formed which went on to rule that the chief secretary-headed committee hadn’t conducted the inquiry and needed to do so. Singh said the government still didn’t conduct it and the court passed a final order on August 30, 2011, declaring the government’s case null and void. The charge-sheet against Singh went on to be scrapped.
“Many officers stop at the point when they have been exonerated,” said Singh, “but I said, what about the people who did this wrong to me? I am not guilty but then who is?”
Singh, who believes tolerating injustice is equal to doing injustice, moved the Supreme Court in September 2014, seeking punishment to those those who had persecuted him. He said the government did not reply to three notices; then Kapil Sibal appeared for it on October 12, 2015, and filed a counter-affidavit. “I told the court I did not want to reply. The court reserved its order on October 13,” he said. The order for Rs 10 lakh as compensation came on November 17.
Singh said he had stood up to demands of political leaders earlier too. In his booklet, he writes of a tigress of Dudhwa that killed 22 persons. She happened to have come from England, a gift to Indira Gandhi. “When a question was raised in Parliament, I was asked to say the killings were by another tigress. I declined.”
He said he also declined a request by BJP leader Rajnath Singh to allow the lease of forest land to his guru’s ashram near Rajaji National Park, and another from a BSP leader “on behalf of Mayawati” to keep a BSP MLA, Murad Lari, out of the list of offenders after he had been caught for killing two deer.
Singh said Raja Bhaiya and Akhilesh Yadav have always treated him with respect. He discussed Etawah’s lions recently with Akhilesh, “who did not mention the case”.
His house on Rae Bareli Road is surrounded by greenery, including five trees. He and his wife Meera have two German shepherds. When the Rs 10 lakh comes, he will put it in a fixed deposit for Meena, “my lone supporter through all this”.