His pet name is “Molai” and real name is Jadav Payeng . A very simple and ordinary man has done very extra-ordinary work. He turned a barren sandbar in northern India into a lush new forest ecosystem, a sprawling 1,360 acres of jungle by his 30 years diligent endeavor.
It all started way back in 1979, when floods washed a large number of snakes ashore on the sandbar. One day, after the waters had receded, Payeng, only 16, then found the place dotted with the dead reptiles. That was the turning point of his life. He understood “the snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover” and decided to make a forest with his own effort whether any one come to help him.
He started working on the forest in 1980 when the social forestry division of Golaghat district launched a scheme of tree plantation on 200 hectares at Aruna Chapori situated at a distance of 5 km from Kokilamukh in Jorhat district. Molai was one of the laborers who worked in that project which was completed after five years. He chose to stay back after the completion of the project even after other workers left. He not only looked after the plants, but continued to plant more trees on his own, in an effort to transform the area into a forest. Payeng even transplanted ants to his burgeoning ecosystem to bolster its natural harmony. Soon the shadeless sandbar was transformed into a self-functioning environment where a menagerie of creatures could dwell. The forest, called the “Molai woods”, now serves as a safe haven for numerous birds, deer, rhinos, tigers and elephants.
His efforts became known to the authorities in 2008. The officials were surprised to see such a large and dense forest and since then the department has regularly visited the site.
“We’re amazed at Payeng,” says Gunin Saikia, assistant conservator of Forests. ” Had he been in any other country, he would have been made a hero.” Jadav Payeng was honored by Jawaharlal Nehru University on 2012 and Indian Institute of Forest Management on 2013.
Jadav Payeng belongs to a tribe called Mishing in Assam, India. He lives in a small hut in the forest with his wife, Binita and two sons and a daughter. He has a cattle and buffalo farm and maintains his livelihood from selling the milk.