In the heart of Assam, India, amid the lush landscapes and meandering Brahmaputra River, there exists a remarkable tale of resilience and dedication. This tale belongs to Jadav Payeng, a man whose extraordinary efforts have transformed a once-barren sandbar into a flourishing forest. Born on October 31, 1959, in the indigenous Mising tribe of Assam, Jadav Payeng has earned the well-deserved title of the "Forest Man of India."
In 1979, when Payeng was just 19 years old, he witnessed a disturbing sight that would set the course of his life. A catastrophic flood had washed numerous snakes onto a desolate sandbar near the river. The reptiles succumbed to the scorching heat as there was no shelter. Stricken by their plight, Payeng took it upon himself to make a change. He planted around 20 bamboo seedlings on the barren land, a small step that would grow into an astounding journey.
These initial seedlings marked the inception of what would later be known as the Molai forest. Payeng's dedication was unwavering, and he continued to nurture and plant trees over the decades. His efforts bore fruit and today, the forest stretches over approximately 1,360 acres (550 hectares) near Kokilamukh of Jorhat, Assam. Molai forest is not just any woodland; it is home to Bengal tigers, Indian rhinoceros, deer, rabbits, monkeys, vultures, and countless other species. It's a testament to the remarkable transformation Payeng has achieved.
Molai forest has become a sanctuary for various wildlife species. Over the years, the forest has attracted a herd of around 100 elephants that visit annually and stay for six months, even giving birth to calves within its sheltering confines. The area is rich with diverse plant life, including valcol, arjun, ejar, goldmohur, koroi, moj, himolu, and an expansive bamboo cover.
Payeng's work remained unnoticed by authorities until 2008, when forest department officials ventured into the forest to locate 115 elephants that had damaged property in a nearby village. To their astonishment, they discovered a thriving and dense forest, leading them to regularly inspect the site.
In 2013, Payeng's vigilance protected the rhinoceros in the forest from poachers who attempted to harm them. His prompt alertness resulted in the seizure of articles used by the poachers, thwarting their sinister intentions.
Jadav Payeng's dedication to environmental conservation is unwavering. He manages the forest and tends to the plants daily. He not only embodies the spirit of the Mising tribe but serves as an inspiring example for the world.
While Payeng's work has earned him several accolades, the most notable was the Padma Shri, India's fourth-highest civilian award, bestowed upon him in 2015. He was also granted honorary doctorate degrees from Assam Agricultural University and Kaziranga University, recognising his remarkable contributions to preserving the environment.
Jadav Payeng's life revolves around his forest, and he has embraced it as his home. He and his family used to live in the forest, but in 2012, they relocated to a nearby village. Payeng's daily routine involves caring for his cattle and buffaloes, which provide him with the milk he sells for his livelihood, his sole source of income. He has faced the loss of many of his livestock to the tigers in the forest, a consequence of the encroachment and destruction of the wild animal's natural habitat by humans.
The story of Jadav Payeng serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration, reminding the world that a single individual's unwavering determination can create a haven for wildlife and protect the environment. Payeng's journey from planting a few bamboo seedlings to nurturing an expansive forest is a testament to the power of one person's vision.
Jadav Payeng, the Forest Man of India, has not only created a green paradise but has also woven a legacy of environmental conservation that inspires generations to protect and preserve our planet's natural treasures. His story is a reminder that in the face of adversity, one person can indeed make a world of difference.