Ram Dayal Srivas (59 years), the Forest Guard at Pahari beat of Palpur Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary had called it a day after a routine scan for dacoits and poachers in his tough territory, in the dreaded Chambal heartland of Madhya Pradesh. He returned along with his associates Dinesh Singh Jadon and Baboo Singh (both are daily workers), to Madanpur Patrolling Camp, newly established under his leadership.
After an early dinner, he retired to bed in a make shift cot, under the open sky, on the camp compound. Dog tired at the day's toil, he was fast asleep. It was a warm and windy night of May 25,2006 but ominous for Ram Dayal Srivas.
Palpur Kuno chronicles a restless life for its foresters, over last four years. Soon after the Lion Reintroduction Plans came afoot, the ground staff in forest management responded positively. Here they achieved a quick turnaround in habitat restoration from a deplorable state of affairs. In the past, the sanctuary faced tremendous pressure from illicit cattle grazers from the adjoining state of Rajasthan. Large herds of cattle of sizes 15,000 to 20,000 entered and camped in core area of the sanctuary, during rainy season. Local villagers, living inside the forests, practiced the same. While attempting to remove them, they would form group of 50 to 60 and would start fighting with the sanctuary staff. They had good rapport with dacoits and took their help to frighten the field staff. In lieu of that, the cattle grazers provided them food, security (from police) and financial support. Irrespective of all these traditional problems, the team of young guards, worked hard and was charged to carry out regular patrolling and camp day and night in the sensitive areas. These resulted into a successful removal all the cattle camps from inside the sanctuary. Besides, all the forest villages from Palpur were shifted outside the sanctuary area for the ensuing project.
It was during one such anti-poaching operation, on a chilly day of December 9, 2004, Ram Dayal Srivas and his team had accosted the deadly poaching gang of Kardu Singh Mongia from Setakhera beat of the sanctuary. Having seized two guns from the gang, he booked them under a forest offence case that finally found them languish behind the bars.
Released on bail the next year, Kardu and his men were again on prowl in corners of Palpur Kuno. An undaunted Srivas squad put them on run. A hide and seek continued till a close encounter took place on May 24,2006 when Kardu and his three sons, all armed, sneaked inside the forest for poaching. They were squarely challenged and chased out by Ram Dayal Srivas, Dinesh Singh Jadon, Baboo Singh and Komal Jatav. The vanquished vandals though vanished temporarily but threatened Srivas of a dire consequence. In his 23 years of service, the day-long risk to confront poachers and dacoits never deserted Srivas, even for a moment. It was minutes before the midnight of May 25,2006, Mansingh, Vijay and Babu singh, the sons of Kardu Singh Mongia, all armed and bike-borne, stormed into the same compound of the Madanpur Patrolling Camp where Srivas had stretched for a little rest. The three cowards encircled a sleeping Srivas before spraying bullets to silence him for good.
Born on the first day of the year 1947, Ram Dayal Srivas could not have fought for India's freedom, but had tirelessly roared and struggled to pave ways for Lion to roam freely again in its lost Kingdom of Palpur Kuno.
The night, however ominous, was starlit too to shower sparkles of hope at this upright foot-soldier, for the supreme sacrifice of his life, for Lions to return in Palpur Kuno.