BANGALORE: In 1979, when the Brahmaputra was in spate during the monsoon, logs of wood and hundreds of snakes came floating on the sandbar in Jorhat, Assam. When the water receded, the reptiles died on the sand due to excessive heat.
Read his complete story : Lone Indian Man Plants 1,360 Acre Forest
A 15-year-old tribal boy watched the phenomenon sadly and thought: “The snakes perished because there are no trees on this barren sandbar. Today, it is snakes; tomorrow it could be human beings.” He approached tribal elders and asked about growing trees in the region. Those men, who had seen such maladies year after year, told him that nothing could be grown there except bamboos and gave him about 20 bamboo seedlings.
“It was very hard to cultivate them but I didn’t give up. I also started collecting and planting silk cotton and other plants,” recalls Jadav Molai Payeng. The sandbar has now grown into a dense forest over 1,360 acres. Single-handedly raised by him over three decades, the ‘Molai forest’ is home to thousands of trees and variegated birds, four Bengal tigers, several rhinoceroses, hundreds of rabbits, deer and apes.
Jadav Payeng, who speaks at TEDx Bangalore , shared the story of his inspiring journey. He recalls a time when people of his own tribe turned hostile. “When some elephants ate up crops in the nearby fields, farmers got furious and insisted I stop growing the forest. They even killed the elephants,” says Payeng. “But I said: ‘Kill me first, before killing these animals’.”
“The same villagers now acknowledge the importance of the woods as it has become a source of livelihood for them,” says Payeng. In 2012, he was honoured by the Jawaharlal Nehru University, where he was named the Forest Man of India and in 2013, by the Indian Institute of Forest Management.
How does he feel about it? “It feels good,” he says, “But I measure success in terms of the greenery I spread till the day I live.” He now plans to raise a forest on 2,000 hectares near the Kaziranga National Park.
Payeng has his own ideas for enhancing the green cover: “Planting of trees should be part of the school curriculum. Each child should plant two trees and look after them till they leave school. This way, they will generate the oxygen they need and also pass on the legacy to newcomers.”
The Green Warrior
Ullas Karanth, conservation zoologist from Karnataka who was on the jury of the Royal Bank of Scotland that conferred the Green Warrior Award on Jadav Payeng last year, said, “Payeng’s achievement in such a short span of time is truly commendable.”