Three decades ago, A young boy, after noticing the deaths of a large number of reptiles and decline in the flow of migratory birds due to the lack of a tree cover, started planting Bamboo in an area that had been washed away by floods. Today,that same land hosts 1,360 acres of Jungle called Molai Forest, named after Jadav Molai Payeng, popularly known as the Forest Man of India.
“I asked my elders, what would they do if all of us die one day, like these snakes. They just laughed and smirked but I knew I had to make the planet greener,” Jadav says.
His village elders told him that with decline in forest cover and deforestation, animals lost their homes. The solution was to build new homes or forests for the animals, they said. He alerted the forest department but they asked him to plant trees himself (which he actually did). He located a riverine island, on the banks of River Brahmaputra, and began planting the saplings. Payeng visited the island and planted a few saplings every day for three decades. Watering the growing area of plants posed a problem. He could not draw water from the river and water all the growing plants, as the area proved to be vast for one man. He built a bamboo platform on the top of each sapling and placed earthen pots with small holes in them. The water would gradually drip on the plants below and water them through the week until the pots were drained of water.As his forests grew, they posed new problems for the villagers who posed a challenge to Payeng. The forest’s wild elephants began to stray to the villages on the edge of the forest and damage the crops and agricultural fields. Tigers were also noted hunting small village fowls and pheasants. Angry villagers told Payeng that they would destroy his forest as the animals were posing a threat to their lives and crops. Payeng began to plant more trees, especially banana trees, a favourite food for elephants in his jungle. Finding adequate food within the forest, the elephants stopped coming out to the villages, and soon the population of animals such as deer grew, providing enough game for the wild tigers.
Jadav Payeng belongs to a tribe called “Mishing” in Assam, India. He lives in a small hut in the forest. Binita, his wife, and his 3 children (two sons and a daughter) accompany him. He has cattle and buffalo on his farm and sells the milk for his livelihood, which is his only source of income.
Jadav Molai Payeng was honoured at a public function arranged by the School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University on 22 April 2012 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”. In the month of October 2013, he was honoured at Indian Institute of Forest Management during their annual event Coalescence.
Payeng’s efforts in conservation have also been widely appreciated by the Assam government, academicians, and Late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. In 2015, he was honoured with Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India. He has received many other awards for his contributions being an environmental activist and forestry worker.