Forest official Sanjiv Chaturvedi has been transferred 12 times in the last five years. He has been threatened, booked under false cases, illegally suspended and charge sheeted by the Congress government in Haryana. His personal life has been destroyed. Chaturvedi lives all alone in a house with bare shelves and walls. The next transfer is always imminent.
In April 2007, Chaturvedi was the Divisional Forest Officer in Kurukshetra. He exposed officials who without required permissions from the Supreme Court violated the Forest Conservation Act and The Wildlife Protection Act in constructing the Hisar Kurukshetra Canal through the Saraswati Wildlife Sanctuary. At the time, the warden RD Jakati overruled him. Jakati is now the Director of the National Forest Academy. Chaturvedi however was warned by the Haryana government and subsequently transferred.
By the time the Wildlife Trust of India filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court's Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC), the court had no grounds of charging the accused because the forest had been denotified by then. The Haryana Government was let off with a Rs.4.5 crore fine that included private litigation fees.
In one of his postings at Fatehabad, the forest department was spending crores buying rare trees for a herbal park owned by the relatives of MLA Prahlad Singh Gillakhera, a powerful independent candidate close to Haryana's then forest minister Kiran Chaudhary. Chaturvedi halted the work only to receive a letter from the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest JK Rawat that stated Chaudhary's objections.
Someone from Gillakhera's office called Chaturvedi and threatened to "eliminate" him. Chaturvedi was suspended for indiscipline. He filed an RTI seeking reasons for suspension. The department refused stating that it will hamper investigation. The chief job description and the ticket to success in Haryana's forest department is to be blind to the gross environmental violations and to collectively cash in on the spoils. Chaturvedi consistently failed on both counts.
Chaturvedi appealed to the central government and finally his suspension was revoked. However, a fake FIR had been registered against him accusing him of criminal intimidation and stealing a Kachnar plant. Since then, to cover the illegality of the herbal park, it has been declared a protected forest. No one was punished except the man who exposed the crime.
Chaturvedi was kept without a posting for six months. In January 2008, he was finally posted as DFO at Jhajjar where he exposed a five crore rupees scam for fake plantations. He suspended nine forest officials and fired 40. Transfers and harassment followed.
Chaturvedi is an unassuming jovial man with no airs about him. His family says that he refused protection because it sends a signal out to the world that he is scared. He is matter of fact when he tells you that he cannot talk to the media because of his position in the government. He is today the Divisional Forest Officer for production in Haryana.
"What can I say on the phone, madam, I believe in karma. Whatever I have done, I have to pay the price for it and so does everyone else. My fight is an issue based one and it is futile if the process is not initiated against the guilty. Conviction is of course far away," he ends unwilling to continue the conversation.
The most important thing to him is "self accountability". He understands that external motivations are short lived. Yet, it is this awareness of self that drives him to fulfil his external obligation, to live up to what his role in the world expects of him.
To preserve the sanctity of Haryana's power corridors, its leaders decided to destroy Chaturvedi's personal life. His wife was convinced by unknown persons that he constantly sought transfers because he didn't want her staying with him. His in-laws were paid to slap a dowry
Since it is a non bailable offence, they thought they had hit a jackpot – one that could silence their only enemy.
In the next three years till the case reached closure and Chaturvedi won, his aged parents were traumatized by the legal battle. Simultaneously their son was moving from one obscure posting to another. For him, personally and professionally life was proving to be a nightmare. He divorced his wife and appealed to the central government.
Initially the central government wanted the state to respond on its own. Officials in the Haryana Forest Department would tell you that Haryana and Delhi are close especially when it comes to their shared vested interests. There is no explicit rule as to how the centre can intervene in this situation. As of January this year, President Pratibha Patil has called for the charge sheet against him to be quashed. This is the first such intervention by a president in independent India.
A two member probe panel investigated his case and recommended a CBI investigation. The Committee found strong evidence again former forest minister Kiran Chaudhary who recommended Chaturvedi's suspension.
The world we are living in is satisfied celebrating the quashing of the charge street. We triumph in having successfully protected the whistle blower even as the criminals he exposed are rapidly extracting more power and wealth from very crimes they committed.
Kiran Chaudhury has since been given the plush posting as the Cabinet Secretary of taxing and excise. Prahalad Singh Gillakhera has become the Chief Parliamentary Secretary. Chaturvedi plans to file a petition in the high court and Supreme Court. The battle isn't over anytime soon. The price is still being paid.
Part of this appeared in Tehelka magazine.