Billy, The Legend
It is commemorate Billy Arjan Singh on his 2nd death anniversary on 1st January 2012. I am trying to bring forth certain untouched aspects about him. Billy’s demise has created a big void in the wildlife conservationists’ world. He was a shining star of the galaxy of the contemporary biodiversity conservationists. His thoughts and writings are still giving lots of motivation and inspiration to the followers of his track.
To fulfil one’s mission one has to be fanatic. Billy Arjan Singh was a concrete example to this dogma. He was so honest to his approach that he often proved to be uncomfortable even to well meaning persons. Due to this aspect of his personality he used to antagonise many persons, who could be useful to fulfilling his mission, the wildlife conservation. You will find many officers who will speak in favour of Billy. Normally they forget his real worth and remember his blunt approach and not so conducive treatment meted out to them. This quality of his had turned him into an awe inspiring personality. Even people very close to him would not muster courage to say something which they presumed to be unpalatable to Billy.
I had joined as Wild Life Warden (WLW), Kheri Region in July 1973. Immediately I made it a point to see Billy, as I was advised by my predecessor, who was per chance admirer of Billy. He told me that, so far as protection and conservation of wildlife is concerned, Billy could prove as my friend, philosopher and guide, if I could keep him in good humour. A few months after taking over as WLW I happened to meet my predecessor at Lucknow. During the course of discussion I told him the high incidence of illegal fishing in the rivers and lakes of Kheri forests. He told me a very astonishing fact. As per him even Billy did illegal angling in the Suheli river flowing in the backyard of his residence Tiger Haven (TH). When I asked him, “why did he not point it out to Billy and stop it?” He told that this spoil his relation with him and might not get his support needed at times. But I was restless to meet Billy and stop this incongruous happening by a staunch wildlife conservationist. I contacted Billy as early as it was possible and put a straight question to him on this aspect. He confessed doing angling but pleaded complete ignorance of the provision making it illegal. Had he been doing it knowingly he could have put forth the argument that the right bank of the river belonged to the village in which house is situated, as the river made the boundary of the forest with the village. At that time fishing on permit was allowed even in the National Parks. I issued him the required permit on due payment of fee; he continued this practice thereafter.
Once his men got hold of a mugger (Crocodylus palustris) hatchling and brought it to him. Perhaps it was flown away by floods in the Suheli river. He, out of his passion to wild creature started nurturing it in a small pool, especially prepared for it, at TH. I also did not pay heed towards the legality or otherwise of this incidence, as the hatchling was well kept and was progressing well. I thought after it gets maturity and is able to fend for itself, it will be released in the river flowing adjoining the pool. The then Chief Wild Life Warden (CWLW) happened to visit the TH on Billy’s request as he was good friend to him. The CWLW himself could not inform Billy about the legal provisions of rearing a mugger, may be due to a feeling of embarrassment. He also did not point it out to me also, perhaps knowing my nature of immediate disposal. When I went to Lucknow to see the CWLW in connection with some official work, he pointed me out that I should persuade Billy to release the mugger hatchling back to the river. I asked him if Billy intends to do some experimentation, as he had been doing with the Prince, the leopard. He told in such an event he should seek permission of his office. I wanted to know that why he not asked Billy about all this while he was visiting TH, he replied that Billy might have not taken it with good taste. The moment I told Billy about the provision of hand rearing of the mugger, he took no time in releasing the hatchling into Suheli.
In the beginning of 1986 I took over as Director, Dudhwa National Park (DNP). Due to some official work I went to Delhi. I also met the then Secretary, Environment and Forests, due to protocol requirements and mainly owing to my old acquaintance with him, as he had visited the DNP area in 1974 when he was Deputy Secretary and I was WLW. After the discussion with him was over and was just leave his office he told that one most important issue he had forgotten to mention. He further added that it could be resolved only by me. It was a little bewildering and also soothing to listen from such a high level. He told that Billy was putting bait to the tigers in the forest near TH besides this practice being completely banned. I had neither the knowledge of this fact nor of the baits being tied by Billy. I spoke straight to Billy. He admitted in absolute forthright manner that he was doing it prove that Tara, the tigress claimed to have been shot by Dr RL Singh, sometime in 1982. I told him that either he had to stop the practice, which is not in tune with the Government of India (GoI) directives, or he had seek permission in writing from the GoI. He told that his study was already over. He was not going to put any more bait in future.
These are a few anecdotes to prove my point about the great soul Billy. There many in the repertory of my memory to be given in future. With these few words I pay homage the legendary figure of the area of wildlife conservation.
Gyan Chandra Mishra (Former Field Director Dudhwa Tiger Reserve)