Anand Singh Negi (I.F.S.) – Braveheart And Dedicated Forester
Photo: A.J.T. Johnsingh.
Vinod Rishi writes about his friend and colleague, Anand Singh Negi, I.F.S. (retired), a brave and dedicated forester who survived all manner of threats, but succumbed to that scourge, cancer.
Tall, gaunt, with piercing grey-green eyes, A. S. Negi belonged to a family that was closely associated with nature and forests. His eldest brother was the Chief Conservator of Forests, Uttar Pradesh and another brother was a Range Officer in the state. Negi could not have been left uninfluenced by such a family.
After finishing a two-year Forestry Training Course (1965-67) from the Indian Forest College, Negi began his career as a Senior Forest Service officer in Uttar Pradesh. After the creation of the Indian Forest Service in 1966 he was inducted into the new All India Service and was awarded 1969 as the year of his seniority at the All India Level. He continued to be with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department until the creation of Uttaranchal in 2000, and retired as the Chief Wildlife Warden of Uttaranchal (now Uttarakhand) in 2003.
Though we were batchmates, we first came together only in the early 1990s, when he was the Field Director of the Corbett Tiger Reserve and I was working in the Wildlife Wing of the Government of India. Both of us enjoyed trekking in the forests of Uttarakhand and he followed the age-old foresters’ saying - “The best fertiliser for a healthy forest is the forester’s foot.” Common interests and professional backgrounds took us through animated discussions and debates. He could walk tirelessly for hours or drive over the toughest of forest roads, discussing the structure of the forest and wildlife habitats, and the concepts, theory and pragmatism required in the practice of conservation, all while narrating cases and examples of law enforcement in the field.
His field craft was superlative. Rajiv Mehta, one of his close friends from Operation Eye of the Tiger, narrated an incident from January 2014, when Negi suddenly alerted everyone following him on foot through the Dholkhand Forest to the bull elephant in musth close by, because he could smell it. The group waited in silence, and a few moments later a tuskless makhna bull broke cover some distance away.
As a dedicated field manager he was the man behind several landmark changes in the Corbett Tiger Reserve. During his five-year tenure as Field Director in the early 1990s, he spent most of his time inside the forest. It was his first wildlife posting and he loved his job. Before he took charge, Corbett faced considerable trouble. Terrorists, trespassers, dacoits and poachers were wreaking havoc in the reserve. On a personal level, Negi had lost his son, a fighter pilot, in a MIG-21 crash, and his son-in-law was kidnapped soon after his marriage and remains missing to date.
Despite these crushing personal tragedies, he did not falter, refusing to surrender to these heart-breaking calamities. Instead he dedicated his time to the protection and strengthening of the tiger reserve. When a helicopter with influential industrialist poachers landed on an island in Ramganga, Negi refused to look the other way. In this period he also worked with Brijendra Singh, Honorary Wildlife Warden, to organise the rehabilitation of three hamlets from the southern boundary of the reserve. He had an uncanny ability of putting people at ease, a key reason that the resettlement process was implemented without coercion. Today, this area is prime tiger habitat.
When he was appointed as Uttarakhand’s Chief Wildlife Warden, he again focused on rehabilitating forest dwellers, this time Gujjars (livestock herders). The project, which had been losing steam over the years, was given direction by his pragmatic approach. The results are visible on the ground with parts of the Rajaji National Park bouncing back with healthy wildlife populations.
A.S. Negi was a visionary. He created and utilised opportunities to help people living in villages at the fringe of the forest, and strengthened protection measures with their cooperation. After his superannuation from the service, he continued with his philosophy of people-aided wildlife conservation. Rajiv Mehta, Honorary Wildlife Warden of Rajaji National Park, narrates how Negi went back to the Corbett Tiger Reserve and its surrounding buffer area, post-retirement, to help with schemes for people living on the northern fringe of the reserve. He managed to boost forest protection in the Lansdowne and Ramnagar Divisions by placing two Special Operations Groups to work on anti-poaching patrols in cooperation with Corbett’s field staff.
A.S. Negi’s dedication and zeal were acknowledged when the N. D. Tiwari government appointed him as their advisor on wildlife matters. He was also a member of the Uttarakhand State Wildlife Advisory Board for several years and served as the President of the Wildlife Preservation Society of India to the day he died. He was a wildlife hero in every sense of the word and a fine example that young forest officers should seek to emulate.
Dr. A.J.T. Johnsingh, Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore and WWF-India shares his memories of a braveheart officer whose ethics, integrity and commitment to wild India are legendary.
I first met A. S. Negi in 1985 when we went to investigate an elephant death in Corbett’s Laldhang Range. Thereafter our friendship grew as a result of our mutual love of the outdoors. I recall with great pleasure and nostalgia the walk we undertook, to retrace the steps of the great Jim Corbett, through Rudraprayag, Kanda, Mohan, Thak, Chuka, Talla Des and Champawat. We even drank from the same spring at the base of the mango tree near Thak, where in 1938 the man-eater of Thak and Corbett himself had quenched their thirst.
In the conservation history of the Corbett landscape, A. S. Negi will always be remembered for resettling the hamlets of Dhara, Kothi Rau and Jhirna from the southern boundary of the Corbett Tiger Reserve. As the Field Director, he accomplished these resettlements in 1993–1994.
While he was in the process of shifting Laldhang, the fourth village, and removing encroachments from the Kalagarh township area, his four-year tenure came to an end and he was transferred. Had the government allowed him to continue as Field Director for one more year, he would have removed all the encroachments from Kalagarh and resettled the Laldhang village. The encroachment problems of Kalagarh township still persist and the full resettlement of Laldhang was accomplished only very recently.
The third batch of M.Sc. wildlife science students from the Wildlife Institute of India will forever remember their visit to the Corbett Tiger Reserve in the early summer of 1992, as they had the privilege of staying in the Paterpani Forest Rest House in the core of the reserve for five nights, and were given the freedom to walk in the jungle, accompanied by two armed guards. Aparajita Datta, Pranav Trivedi, Shridhar Bhatt, Charudutt Mishra and Bivash Pandav are the prominent students from that batch who all now admirably serve wild India. Negi was of the opinion that the students and trainees of the Wildlife Institute of India should have the privilege to walk in, and understand the potential, splendour and problems of the core as they are the future protectors.
Once, in the summer of 1998, we were trekking to Dodital (3,048 m.) with four young officers, when a runner came with the message that the Forest Minister of the state wanted Negi immediately in Dehradun. Negi tore up the note and told us that he would tell the Minister that he never received it! He was of the strong opinion that when an officer is in the field, he should be allowed to do his work without any interruption. Fortunately, in those days, mobile phones were not in use and deep in the mountains, we were far from any telephone connection. He was extremely disappointed with the government when the catch and release programme of golden mahseer was banned in the Ramganga river upstream of Domunda, which is at the boundary of the Corbett National Park. Involving the villagers, he and other conservation colleagues, interested in golden mahseer conservation, were promoting catch and release tourism which would have benefitted both the fish and the villagers protecting the fish from unethical fishing methods, primarily dynamiting, poisoning and electrocution.
Negi won the gratitude, admiration and loyalty of his staff in Corbett because he walked with them in the jungle, occasionally lived with them in their anti-poaching camps, shared their food and offered them unflinching support when they were in trouble. Conservation in India would be on a much more sound footing if the country had more officers like him.
First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIV No. 6, December 2014.