Former head of the forest department in undivided Andhra Pradesh and the first civilian to receive the Shaurya Chakra, retired IFS officer M Kamal Naidu passed away on April 18 in Hyderabad at the age of 79. He is survived by his wife Rohini Naidu, son Srikanth Naidu and daughter Swathi.
Here is a small but heartfelt tribute to the hardworking bureaucrat whose service in Naxal-infested areas earned him India’s third highest peacetime gallantry award.
A graduate of Hyderabad’s agriculture university, Naidu cleared the UPSC examination and joined Indian Forest Service in 1962. A decade later, in 1972, he was posted as district forest officer in Karimnagar (a thickly forested district of undivided Andhra Pradesh).
Back then, Karimnagar was a hotbed of Naxal activity. The left-wing extremists were involved in illicit cultivation on 4,200 acres of forest land and warned Naidu about obstructing them. Undeterred by the threats and taunts, the dedicated IFS officer stood his ground and continued to protect government property.
On August 10, 1972, Naidu was on duty when he was ambushed by the Naxals near Paloncha.
“The first bullet hit me in the mouth. I was alone; my associates ran away. I lost all of my right jaw teeth. They smashed my face with a rifle butt. The second bullet went through my arm and exited from my shoulder. I got a blow on my head which required 18 stitches,” the courageous officer later recalled to the Deccan Chronicle.
As a result of the grievous injuries he suffered, Naidu remained confined in the hospital for three and a half months. Even after he was discharged, the painful effects of those wounds lingered. In fact, nearly 40 years after the incident, he underwent another operation (his last one) in 2013 to remove minute bullet pellets that had remained embedded in his mouth.
However, Naidu’s exemplary dedication to duty and courage in the face of danger remain unacknowledged and unappreciated by the government. A few years later, the IFS officer survived another close encounter with death. This time, the attack came from a cobra when he was director of the Delhi Zoo.
On being informed that a six-and-a-half-foot black cobra had entered the lions’ enclosure, Naidu rushed to the rescue of the two cubs who were in danger. He aimed at the cobra’s spine with his gun but missed. Realising that any further delay could lead to the death of the cubs, he picked up the deadly serpent by its tail.
Naidu was trying to get hold of its neck when the cobra twisted and sank its fangs into his hand. He flung it away but the enraged snake attacked him again. But this time, he was successful in killing it. Hiring an autorickshaw, the bleeding officer immediately went in search of life-saving anti-venom, going from hospital to hospital till he found it!
It was only after a three-day struggle that the doctors managed to save the IFS officer’s life. Soon afterwards, the then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi got to hear of Naidu’s two death-defying escapades and sent him a get-well letter.
The PM was also the one who initiated the process to honour Naidu with India’s third highest peacetime gallantry award, the Shaurya Chakra, in 1988.
Even after his retirement, Naidu continued to work with the civil society. He was also appointed to the Supreme Court Commision tasked with the inspection of the disputed boundary areas between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
People like M Kamal Naidu come along very rarely. Civil servants like him are rarer. One of those rare government officers who combined devotion to duty with immense courage, he will be greatly missed by the country he served.