How many people can have an entire forest credited to their name? Meet Jadav Payeng, the sole force that sustains the Molai Woods, a 1360-acre forest, in Assam.
In the year 1980, the forest department at Golaghat commissioned a project to plant trees over 200 hectares of land at a place called Aruna Chapori. One of the labourers in the appointed workforce for this 5-year project was Jadav Payeng. Little did they know that this man was driven by more than just financial commitment. When Payeng was a teenager, an incident had occurred which remained etched in his mind and was part of the reason for his participation in this project. An overwhelming spate of floods had washed close to a hundred snakes onto the sandbars of the Brahmaputra River. Young Payeng established a loving connection with the reptiles only to find them burnt alive in the subsequent days, due to inadequate shade and extreme heat. What followed was a sincere, emotional appeal to the authorities, asking them to plant more trees on the sandbars. This plea had been outright rejected, as the officials were certain that no form of nature could be planted and nurtured on sandbars. They had proceeded to mockingly goad Payeng into planting bamboo trees on his own. The Golaghat project had come along almost like a solution.
Once the project was over, Payeng remained rooted to the cause. He continued to plant saplings in and around those areas, including the sandbars where those snakes had once withered. Over the course of nearly thirty long years, Payeng’s passion and patience bore fruit and how. A thriving forest with ample diversity in flora and fauna now occupied not just 200 but more than 1000 hectares of area. It was the animals that first took notice of this ecological haven when tigers, rhinos, deer, rabbits, apes, a number of birds and a herd of a hundred odd elephants made Mulai Woods their home. People however took notice only when reports of an elephant trespassing came into light. Forest officials from the nearby village literally stumbled onto Jadav Payeng’s diverse, sprawling den and were astounded. Yes, he had taken the department’s advice. There were indeed bamboo trees; bamboo trees and a whole world of flora and fauna.
Jadav ‘Mulai’ Payeng has hence been dubbed the ‘Green Warrior’ and is celebrated by village folk in the area. His means of sustenance is selling cattle milk. He turns 50 this year and has been living with his wife and three children. It comes as an inspiration to see a man who has dedicated easily more than half his life in developing forest area. He does face hardship even to this day — threats of poaching and wild animals being endangered — but it is no longer a one-man struggle. The forest department supports Payeng’s initiative. Moreover, Payeng is open to fostering more such areas as long as Mulai Woods is taken care of well. He has received recognition by esteemed universities, environmentalists, filmmakers, politicians and now, the youth of India!