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Molai’s green journey to Padma Shri glory

Guwahati: From a small spread of green forest located on a sandbar in the bosom of the mighty Brah-maputra River to the glory of Padma Shri Award, it has been a unique journey for 51-year-old Jadav Payeng, the Forest Man of India.
Jadav Payeng, popu-larly known as Molai, is a member of Mishing tribe community who hails from Jorhat district of Assam.
His claim to the fame is a 550-hectare rich forest on a sandbar of Brahmaputra River at Kokilamukh in Jorhat district. He has been toiling since 1979 to raise the forest on a barren sandbar. The forest now famous as Molai forest has been declared a reserve forest by Assam Forest Department as a recognition to his self-less and untiring efforts for conservation of nature.
Then a 16 year old boy, Jadav started planting trees on the sandbar in 1979 when he found that a large number of snakes had died due to excessive heat after those were washed onto the tree-less sandbar by flood water. He started with planting 20 bamboo seedlings on the sandbar. He, in fact, started planting saplings of diffrent tree species on the sand bar in that year when the social forestry department laun-ched 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 labourers 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.
Molai forest, now boasts of a treasure trove of varied animals including Royal Bengal tigers, Indian
rhinoceros, over 100 deer and rabbits besides apes and several varieties of birds, including a large number of vultures. There are several thousand trees in the forest while bamboo covers an area of over 300 hectares. A herd of around 100 elephants regularly visits the forest every year and generally stay for arou-nd six months, a forest offi-cial of Jorhat district said.
The forest department officials who came to know about Jadav Payeng’s forest only in 2008, has been helping him in protesting its resources since then.
Jadav lives in a small hut in the forest with his wife Binita and his 3 children (two sons and a daughter). The forest is accessibly by boat from the South bank of the Brahmaputra River at Kokilamukh. His rears a herd of cattle and buffalo on his farm and sells the milk for his livelihood.
Jadav informed that he lost around 100 of his cows and buffaloes to the tigers in the forest, but did not complain about it. He said encroachment by human beings on natural habitat of wild animals had led to conflict of the man with wild animal.
Jadav Payeng was honoured at a public function arranged by the School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University on 22 April 2012 for his remarkable achieve-ment. The JNU vice-chan-cellor Sudhir Kumar Sopory named Jadav Payeng as “Forest Man of India”.
In the month of October 2013, he was honoured at Indian Institute of Forest Management during their
annual event Coalescence.
Payeng has been the subject on a number of documentaries in the recent years. He actually shot to fame through a docu-mentary film ,The Molai Forest, produced by Jitu Kalita in 2012.
The 2013 film documentary Foresting life, directed by the Indian documentary filmmaker Aarti Shrivastava, cele-brates the life and work of Jadav Payeng in the Molai forest. These are also the focus of William Douglas McMaster’s 2013 film documentary Forest Man.

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