Jadav Payeng – The Man Who Grew a Forest!

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An epic tale of our time! An ordinary individual from Assam has achieved something, which no one can dream of or talk about. Jadav Payeng, locally known as Molai has created a forest covering 550 hectare over sand deposits in the middle of the Brahmaputra.

A few lines quoted from various social networking sites, describe him better-

“An accomplishment for the ages! The world thanks you.”

“You are a legend.”

“You deserve the Nobel Prize.”

The name of the forest is Molai Reserve. It is located near Kokilamukh of Jorhat. Total area of the forest is now about 1000 hectare. He started his journey of plantation in 1979. Now, there are five tigers, three rhinos and many reptiles, birds and other animals. There are thousands of trees like simolu, veleu, urium, azar, teak, mos etc. Now his aim is to spread his MulaiForest to Bongoan of Majuli (world’s largest river island).

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It all began with the Brahmaputra floods of 1979. The floods brought a huge number of snakes on the banks and the sandbars near the banks. Jadav Payeng was a 16 year old teenage boy back then, he found those snakes and all of them were dead.

“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested,” Payeng says in a recent interview.

He left his education and home, and started living on the sandbar. He watered the plants morning and evening and pruned them. After a few years, the sandbar was transformed into a bamboo thicket. Later he decided to grow proper trees. Soon, there were a variety of flora and fauna which burst in the sandbar, including endangered animals like the one-horned rhino and Royal Bengal tiger.

Now the same area is a dense forest sprawling an area 1,360 acre. Jadav Payeng has dedicated 30 years of his life to the upkeep of the forest. Now 47, Jadav Payeng lives in a hut in the midst of Molai forest with his wife Binita and three children. He has a dairy farm next to his hut with cows and buffaloes and sells the milk for a livelihood. He had lost approximately one hundred buffaloes and cows to tigers of the forest. Wild elephants have also damaged his house several times. But Jadav Payeng truly accuses that the people who carry out large scale encroachment and destruction of forests are the root cause of the plight of wild animals, leading to the loss of their habitat and making them to prey on domestic animals. A few years back, poachers tried to kill the rhinos staying in the forest but failed in their attempt due to Mulai who alerted forest department officials. Officials promptly seized various articles used by the poachers to trap the animals.

Only in 2008, Assam State Forest Department came to learn about Payeng’s forest when a herd of some 100 wild elephants stormed into nearby villages and devastated many houses including Payeng’s hutment. It was then that assistant conservator of forests Gunin Saikia met Payeng for the first time.

“We were surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar. Locals, whose homes had been destroyed by the pachyderms, wanted to cut down the forest, but Payeng dared them to kill him instead. He treats the trees and animals like his own children. Seeing this, we, too, decided to pitch in,” says Saikia. “We’re amazed at Payeng. He has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other country, he would have been made a hero.”

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Recently Jadav Payeng was honored at a public function arranged by the School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University for his remarkable achievement. He shared his experience of creating a forest in an interactive session, where Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh and JNU vice-chancellor Sudhir Kumar Sopory were present. Sopory named Jadav Payeng as “Forest Man of India”.

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