Hyderabad: M. Kamal Naidu, retired IFS officer, won the Shaurya Chakra, the third highest peacetime gallantry award, in 1988. He was the first non-defence personnel to be thus awarded, and it came about only after the personal intervention of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Mr Naidu, now 78, narrated the two incidents that won him the prestigious honour. “A group of Naxalites ambushed me while I was on duty as district forest officer, Karimnagar, on August 10, 1972. They had warned me not to obstruct illicit cultivation on 4,200 acres of forest land, but that did not deter me and I continued to protect government property.
“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 removed from my shoulder. I got a blow on my head which required 18 stitches. For three and a half months I was confined to Singareni Hospital, Kothagumdam, and Osmania Hospital,” recalls the intrepid officer.
The effects of those wounds lingered, and the last operation to remove minute bullet pellets in his mouth was in 2013.
Despite the bravery shown by the IFS officer, the state government noted, “Service appreciated, does not merit an award.” This was disheartening, Mr Naidu says.
In 1986, he survived another attack, this time from a cobra when he was director of the Delhi Zoo.
He was informed that a six-and-a-half foot black cobra had entered the lions’ enclosure, and two cubs were in danger.
“I aimed at the cobra’s spine with my gun, but missed. I had no choice but to pick it up by its tail, and as I was trying to get hold of its neck, it bit me. I turned around and threw it but it attacked me again. The second time I was successful in killing it.”
The sequel to all this was that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi got to hear of his death-defying escapade and sent him a get-well letter and invited him to tea.
“I was sitting with Sonia Gandhi and young Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi and after narrating the incidents, I revealed to Mr Gandhi that the state government had appreciated my services but had not considered it worthy of an award.
“Priyanka Gandhi said, ‘How rude can the state government be, Daddy,’ and this caused Rajiv Gandhi to ring up the then defence secretary, T.N. Seshan. He was told that non-defence personnel cannot be awarded the Shourya Chakra. Mr Gandhi made a modification and I became the first civilian to be awarded the Shourya Chakra,” he reminiscenced.