The man who grew a forest in Jorhat, Guwahati

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It is an enterprise worth taking note of. A man in his mid-50s helped grow a huge forest on a sandbar in the middle of the mighty Brahmaputra in Assam's Jorhat district. This unique venture has drawn the attention of the government, tourists and film-makers. Jadav Payeng, known among local people as 'Mulai' gave 30-years of his life to this effort to grow the forest stretching over an area of 550 hectares. Nowadays, Jadav's forest is popularly called as 'Molai Kathoni'. The feat has been hailed by the Assam Forest Department as 'exemplary'.




How did Jadav Payeng grow up a forest?

In 1979, teenaged Jadav Payeng witnessed hundreds of dead snakes washed on the sandbar in floods. Due to lack of tree cover, the snakes died from heat stroke. He alerted the forest department and requested them to grow trees. The authorities rejected his Payeng's plea stating that nothing would grow in the sandbar. Instead, they advised him to grow bamboo. A small bamboo plantation was set up on a chapori (sandbar). Two years later, he helped the social forestry wing of the forest department to set up a plantation on a 200-hectare plot on the chapori. He nursed the plantation camping inside the area with his wife Binita Payeng and his family, even after the scheme was completed in 1988. The plantation grew, under his watchful eye, to over 1000 hectares as Payeng single handedly guarded the area from repeated attempts at encroachment and illegal felling. He nursed another 200 hectares for another plantation. The idea was to extend the forest to Bongaon of Majuli. Ironically as it may seem, as his efforts at conservation began to bear fruit, the local villages initially boycotted his family. The plantation, over 20 kilometres northwest of the town, is now a full-fledged forest with over 50 barking and hog deer, wild roosters, elephants, three one-horned rhinos, fox, five Royal Bengal tiger/tigress with cubs, jackal, vultures, snakes & other reptiles, local and migratory birds. Thousands of valuable trees dot the landscape. The trees include Veleu, Simolu, Gomari, Azar, Khakan, Jamun, Teak, Mango, Jack-fruit, among others. Jadab Payeng however, harbors concerns about deforestation and global warming.




What were the hurdles faced by Jadav Payeng while growing up the forest?

Interestingly, Jadav Payeng strives to save the tigers. Mulai is also involved in dairy farming and agriculture with over 200 buffaloes and cows. He lost nearly 100 buffaloes and cows to tigers (from Kaziranga). Elephants have damaged his house several times. Payeng does not grudge the tigers their prey for the buffaloes served as food for the big cat. According to him, people were into large scale encroachment and destruction of forests, resulting in the loss of habitat for the bigger animals forcing them to prey on domestic cattle. Mulai has his regrets for the state government. Till date, the authorities have not provided any financial assistance to help his 'mission'. However, the Forest Department encouraged him by supplying saplings from time to time. A few years ago, poachers tried to hunt the rhinos living in the forest but failed when Mulai alerted forest department officials. The officials went into action and seized various implements carried by the poachers to trap the animals.




What are the honors and awards received by Jadav Payeng?

Strangely, the forest department of Assam learnt about Payeng’s forest in 2008 after a herd of 100 wild elephants strayed into the forest post marauding through nearby villages. It was only then that the Assistant Conservator of Forests Gunin Saikia met Payeng. A Member of Parliament from Jorhat and former DoNER Minister B K Handique has promised to take up the matter with the concerned union ministry to declare the area a wildlife sanctuary. Recently, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) honored Payeng for his outstanding work on 'Earth Day'. Sudhir Kumar Sopory, JNU vice-chancellor, called Payeng the 'forest man of India' and a true 'nature scientist'.

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