“Urbanization is growing at a faster pace but not the green cover. This situation will lead towards scarcity of oxygen. What then will be the shape of the world?”
What miracle one can create on a piece of barren land in the middle of the magnificent Brahmaputra? Yes! miracle happens but not over night it takes a lifetime. Here comes Jadav Payeng a legend in his lifetime. Jadav Payeng with his marathon efforts and pure selfless intention, devoted 33 years of his life planting trees. Now a well known environment and wildlife activist Jadav Payeng has been conferred Padam Shree this year and also popularly known as the ‘forest man of India’. And the miracle he had created is a lush green forest which is spread into 550 hectares of land in the middle of Brahmaputra, near Kokilamukh in Jorhat District of Assam. It is considered to be the biggest forest in the middle of a river. The forest proudly boasts for its flora and fauna; with the animals like rhinos, elephants, deers and tigers other than around 40 vultures- which are on the verge of extinction, and came here for the first time in 4 decades. Jadav Payeng, fondly known as Mulai Da by his pet name, can very well be our folk hero.
Jadav Payeng’s journey started way back in 1979; He was in class ten when a disastrous flood changed his course of life. He lost his house and cattle in the flood. His family had to shift to some safer place in Majuli. After the flood water receded there were snakes dying in the sand because flood water had brought huge number of snakes towards the bank of the mighty Brahmaputra. There was no tree cover which could have saved them. By seeing this carnage Payeng was moved and decided that he would try to do something which can save these snakes. But 16 year old Payeng had no idea how to start, so he went to consult the old folks from nearby villages looking for some solution to save these snakes. They advised him to plant bamboo trees so that the snakes would not die. So he started planting bamboo shoots there and since then his courageous journey began. Payeng also brought red ants to change the nature of the soil, and make it favorable for planting other trees too. Payeng, fond of planting trees since childhood, gradually started planting other trees like Sal and Ximolu etc. His wife Binita Payeng and his three children, who are also ardent nature lovers, have been very supportive in his endeavor
The forest, which is now popularly known as Mulai Kathoni (Mulai forest) in the locality, came into the limelight in 2008, when a large herd of elephants attacked a village nearby and sneaked into his forest. The forest department officials were completely taken aback to see this pristine forest when came looking for the elephants. However after the incident a few villagers threatened to cut down the forest since the forest was why these elephants came there. Talking about the man-animal conflict he says “its human beings who bring injustice to animals”. Actually he has a point it’s humans who frequently cut trees and encroach forests, striping animals of their natural forest cover that provides them fodder. He further adds “In the quest for food if the hungry elephants come in contact with human beings or houses, they end up attacking them.”
He himself has constructed his house for the fifth time now because elephants have destroyed it from time to time. But that does not affect this compassionate nature lover. He says “I never get frustrated”. True, how one can get frustrated when every morning he open his eyes and hear birds chirping and singing and feel the fresh morning breeze. “It makes me feel wonderful” he proudly says. Further he thoughtfully asks “Urbanization is growing at a faster pace but not the green cover. This situation will lead towards scarcity of oxygen. What then will be the shape of the world?”
The world came to know about Jadav Payeng through a local journalist named Jitu Kalita, who found him in 2009. He says with a smile “I thought Jitu Kalita to be a poacher and refused to talk to him”. Mulai dada spoke to him only when he got convinced that Jitu Kalita is indeed a reporter form a vernacular daily. After one year from the interview a story about him got published, on 24th January in Dainik Janambhumi, a vernacular daily published from Jorhat and Guwahati. In the year 2012 on the ‘Earth Day’, Jawaharlal Nehru University conferred him the title of “the Forest man of India”. These recognitions have encouraged 49 year old Mulai Da to work with more determination, optimism and a broader vision.
By Srikant Chaudhary