UV Singh belongs to a different breed. When he talks, he does not give a hint that beyond his exuberant mien is a veteran who brought a powerful mining mafia to its heels. So when there are men in the highest of corridors, not many beam with a confidence that Singh exudes.
And tough it was for him to come out of a hamlet called Tokha ka Bas in Rajasthan to become the additional principal chief conservator of forests and CEO of Karnataka Medicinal Plant Authority.
“Education was very poor. I did my higher secondary from a school which was four kilometres from my home. Those were difficult days and we used to suffer 45 degree temperature when going to school barefoot. But still I got a scholarship and enrolled in a private college in Navalgarh,” says Singh.
And for Singh, money did kill his aspiration to pursue the medical stream. He pursued his BSc and was also teaching for his expenses. Later he did his MSc on scholarship from Rajasthan University and went on to do his PhD from Jodhpur university in Zoology, mainly on insect hormones. “In 1984-85, I appeared for the IFS and had two options - Zoology and Botany. I scored 175 out of 200 which probably is the highest score in a subject in the civil service examinations. I was selected for the service and joined the Indian Forest College, now called as Indira Gandhi Forest Academy which was a two year training period,” Singh says.
Coming to Karnataka
His first posting was in Sirsi where he was on probation for four months. He then became the assistant conservator of forests and was posted in Doddballapur.
Talking about those tough times that was to begin, he tells us about his tenure in Doddballapur, where there was rampant smuggling of Eucalyptus. "I used to undertake night patrolling, when once I was involved in a fist fight. Those days there was a permit system but now it has been exempted," he says while showing his teeth that was broken as a result.
Ask him how he got the courage to never bow down to the powerful and the corrupt and he says, “You have laws and if they are not implemented then I don’t feel comfortable. If I analyse, then few aspects have made me what I am. One is my upbringing. My father was uneducated but he was a principled man.”
In 1992, Singh became a Silvicultural Research Officer and worked for about three and a half years. In 1996, he came to Tumkur on a regular posting when he had a tussle with law. “There were many cases of tree felling and I have probably reported the highest number of offence cases, about 700 plus. Any detection of offences, an FIR is filed and based on the gravity either they are compounded or placed before the local court. But only a miniscule number get to the court,” he says.
In 1997, Singh became the principal chief deputy conservator of forest and in 2002, he was promoted to the conservator of forest. In 2005, he was posted to the pollution control board as director.
In the meantime, the quarry problem was erupting. The JD(S)-BJP combine government wanted some investigations done in Kanakapura, which is famous for its pink granite quarries. “I was asked to investigate and submitted my report which created a lot of hue and cry. That was the beginning of my tryst with such reports. I investigated 484 quarries in the area and submitted my report in two months,” he says.
In 2006, he came back to Bangalore as conservator of forest. Here he raised a concern that within 100 metres from wooded and forest boundary, one cannot give quarries and crushers. “Forests are in the concurrent list and the concurrence of Central Government is required for any amendment. Last week, the cabinet has approved my suggestion,” he says.
In 2006, Santosh Hegde was appointed as Lokayukta and through their intelligence wing, he called Singh and asked him to dig into the activities of ‘Republic of Bellary’.
“Everybody knew about it because of the China boom and a lot of export was taking place. So when the matter was referred to the Lokayukta, I started my investigation in January 2007 and in December 2008, submitted my report. In 2010, I travelled to Belekeri port in Karwar, from where over `2,000 crore-worth of ore was exported every year. In my first report, about nine government officials, an IAS officer and a chief minister were named. The second report named two chief ministers, nine ministers and about 797 government officials,” he says.
Surprisingly, till date, Singh has never received any threat call or money offers. “It is a hard fact but it is true. And I don’t carry a mobile phone,” he says.
In 2009, he conducted a raid in Chitradurga and it was a big raid which led to the seizure of five JCB machines. “We had the police force, but then I had to put my jeep in front of one JCB machine. Of course, I escaped unhurt,” he says.
After that the Belekeri raid took place in February 2010. This raid gave the real picture. In July of 2011, Hegde submitted the report to the government,” he says.
Meanwhile, the government of India also got pulse of several illegal mining cases and in December 2010, Justice MD Shah commission was set up. “He asked Justice Hegde, if I could be spared once the report was submitted. After the submission of the report, I joined the Shah commission in September 2011,” he says.
He started with Goa and submitted his first report in 2012, which led to suspension of mining in Goa. He submitted three reports and the Supreme Court is hearing the matter.
“Then I went to Orissa and submitted two reports this year. On 16th July this year, the Shah Commission period was to end, but we sought a three month extension. 17 volumes in total was submitted to the Government of India. 16th October was my last working day for the Shah Commission,” he says.
And all through this tumultuous journey, never once did he blink before taking on the law breakers.