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C Rajendran, IFS – One man, many roles
| October 26, 2018
C Rajendran grew up right next to a forest in Mithirmala, a small village in Trivandrum, Kerala. After graduating in Mathematics, he taught the subject for 5 years at a tutorial college.
Following his teaching stint, he was posted briefly as a Village Extension Officer in the Rural Development Department. A year later, in 1986, he was selected for the Forest Rangers course at the Southern Forest Rangers College, Coimbatore.
On completion of his training, he was appointed as a Forest Range Officer and posted as an Instructor in the State Forestry Training Institute, Arippa in Trivandrum. He spent the next 6 months training new joinees there.
As part of the compulsory deputation program of the Kerala Forest Development Corporation, Rajendran was sent to Gavi in Kerala’s Idukki district for 3 years. This interior region was covered with cardamom estates, where refugees from Ceylon (repatriates) worked. For the best part of those years, Rajendran spent his time making the estates a profitable business by closely supervising the work there and promoting and establishing inter-cultural operations.
From Gavi, he was transferred to Trivandrum for the next 2 years to manage commercial plantations.
Rajendran’s tryst with the deep forests began following a transfer to Parambikulam sanctuary. It was a tough posting and the area was remote, he recalls. He had taken his wife and very young daughter along. It was his stint at Parambikulam that gave him an insight into wildlife behaviour and a chance to understand them better.
“I was walking with my staff once when we came across a herd of gaur. Phew! It was a narrow escape. Yet another time, a tusker charged at our vehicle and forced us to drive in reverse gear for almost 2 kilometres. I don’t think I will ever forget that. Oh yes! There was another incident, when I was walking through a plantation and I came face-to-face with a sloth bear. I ran for my life but luckily the bear did not run for my life. All these incidents have made me understand how instinctive wild animals are, and how they do not react unless provoked”, Rajendran says of his experience at Parambikulam.
One of his most frightening encounters was with an elephant. “I was travelling with my wife and kid in a Maruti 800 from Parambikulam to Marayoor,” Rajendran recalls. “It was almost 10 in the night and suddenly a tusker appeared right in front of the car. At that moment, I thought keeping the engine and headlights on would be the best approach as the elephant wouldn’t approach the lights.
“We also noticed a small path that went right by our car into the forest. Maybe, the elephant was trying to take that path, we thought. It looked distressed and did not move from its spot, and kept fidgeting. This went on for almost an hour; my wife and kid were in tears by then.
“I then decided I needed to take a bit of a risk. I switched off the lights and engine and waited. The elephant came forward and we froze in fright. But it just walked down the path we had noticed earlier. Probably it wanted to go its way, but our fear had stopped both us and the elephant on our tracks.”
The 5 years at Parambikulam was an unforgettable experience for him. It was time to shift to shorter stints – 1.5 years monitoring and evaluating the work of the forest department staff as part of the flying squad at Trivandrum; a year with the social forestry sector and 2 years at Marayoor, the land of sandal forests.
His stint at Marayoor was the toughest 2 years, but also the most satisfying, he recalls. At the time he took over, there was rampant sandalwood smuggling but prosecution measures were weak. Every month, around 250 sandalwood trees were felled and smuggled to nearby factories.
To tackle this issue, Rajendran and his team intensified night patrolling. For almost 3 months, he and his team hardly slept, being on their toes 24*7. Under Rajendran’s supervision, prosecution measures were tightened and cases filed against the smugglers. Due to the continuous threats from smugglers, the local police became involved and started investigating the cases.
Filing of cases in court, coupled with intensified patrolling brought smuggling under control. In the 2 years he was posted there, charge sheets were filed in 300 cases and more than 100 confiscated vehicles were sold at a public auction.
Soon, Rajendran was promoted to the position of an assistant conservator and became the principal of the training school where he had started his career as an instructor. The next 3 years were spent in training a newer generation of the forest department staff.
He was then transferred to Palakkad district as the DFO of Mannarkkad for the next 2 years where land encroachment was a huge issue. Roughly 200 to 300 hectares of land had been encroached upon and the culprits were backed by politicians, making eviction operations tough.
While he was still engaged with the work of eviction, he was transferred to the Trivandrum forest department for the next 6 months. After his brief stint, he was transferred to Malayattoor in Ernakulam as the DFO for the next 2 years to take care of the division. Thereafter, he was posted in the forest headquarters as the Director, Forestry Information Bureau, the publication division of the forest department for a year. He went on to become the Deputy Conservator of Forests for the next two years taking disciplinary action against erring officials.
After his last stint, he was forced to retire for a year. Generally, a forest officer is promoted to an IFS cadre post but in Rajendran’s case, the bad blood between the smugglers and his team in Marayoor saw the smugglers slap around 10 fake cases against him and his team. They claimed the forest department had taken them into illegal custody and were trying to tarnish their reputation. It took time for these cases to be sorted out and for Rajendran to be proved right.
Once he received his orders, he re-joined as a Deputy Conservator, Eco Development and Tribal Welfare where he and his team are working towards implementing the Forest Rights Act, managing eco-tourism, NTFP and other tribal welfare activities. A scientific calculation of the carrying capacity of all eco-tourism sites is in progress. This calculation would help limit the number of tourists at every site and in turn help the forests flourish.
Rajendran has juggled different roles in his life, and each with perfection. It is with the efforts of such hard working individuals that the forest department strives to protect the forests and its wildlife.
Written by Meghana Sanka