In October last year, Siddharth Sahoo, a Class VIII student of a school in Orissa’s Keonjhar district won the first prize in a ‘sit and draw’ competition organised by the state wildlife department as part of its 59th wildlife week celebrations. His reward: Rs 5,000 and a certificate.
The student from Nirmala Convent School had drawn 21 wildlife species, including Irrawaddy dolphins and Olive Ridley turtles, to grab the first spot.
But when the winners’ names were announced by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar at an award ceremony a week later, Siddharth’s name was missing. The prize went to another girl from his school, who had not participated in the competition.
Nine months later, after an intervention by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Orissa government is set to give the prize to its rightful claimant.
When Siddharth did not get the award, his father Subrat Sahoo filed an RTI application with the chief wildlife warden’s office to find whether the name and address of his son was tampered with by officials of the Keonjhar Divisional Forest Officer (DFO).
“On the back of the drawing, my son’s name and address was struck out and the girl’s name and address was written. It was clear some officials of the DFO’s office were behind the mischief,” Subrat told The Indian Express.
Subrat then lodged a complaint with the NHRC, which passed an order on February 13 asking the Orissa government to take appropriate action within eight weeks. But with no outcome, Subrat lodged another complaint with the NHRC, which forced the state government to take action.
On July 25, the forest department asked the chief wildlife warden S S Srivastava to revise the results of the competition and declare Siddharth as the winner in place of Monalisha Das, and give him the certificate and cash prize on or before August 8. It also asked Srivastava to recover the certificate and cash prize from Das and, in case it is not returned, file a police complaint. The department also gave directions to initiate departmental proceedings against the ranger and another forest staff responsible for the tampering.
Srivastava said a departmental probe found mischief by the staff at Keonjhar DFO’s office. “We have already started action against the ranger. The prize money and the certificate have already been taken back from the girl,” he said. “We would give the cash prize and certificate to the boy who deserved it.”
The boy’s father said, “My son is yet to get the prize. But I feel vindicated.”