This year's Padma Shri awardee - a man who transformed a barren island into a forest in Assam

This year's Padma Shri awardee - a man who transformed a barren island into a forest in Assam
This year's Padma Shri awardee - a man who transformed a barren island into a forest in Assam
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Amarjyoti Borah | The News Minute | January 9, 2014 | 10:29 am IST

Jadav Payeng, a 58-year-old tribal man belonging to the Mishing community in Assam never thought that his obsession with planting trees would make him a household name in the state one day, and that a forest in the state would be named after.

Payeng developed this fascination thirty-four years ago. Ever since then there has been no looking back, and his efforts have resulted in the creation of a forest which today is home to several wild animals including tigers, deer, rhinos and elephants.

“34 years ago, there was a major flood in the state which killed a lot of wild animals and caused a lot of devastation. It immediately struck my mind that the ecosystem was being damaged and I wanted to do my bit to restore it,” said the tribal man.

Payeng said that being ignorant and not being much aware of the world, he sought advice from village elders, who suggested he plant trees to restore the damages done to the environment.

( Photo courtesy: Jitul Gogoi )

He then began planting samplings on a barren river island on the Brahmaputra River close to his house. After over three decades of hard work, the once barren island today is a forest- of 550 hectares area.

The forest has now been named after him- Mulai Kathoni Bari, Mulai being his pet name, and kathoni meaning forest in the local language.

Besides this, Payeng is also planting samplings on another 150 hectares of barren land on another river island nearby.

His efforts have been lauded at various levels, and in 2012, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) had named him the ‘Forest man of India’.

( Photo courtesy: Jitul Gogoi )

Payeng’s efforts in conservation have also been widely appreciated by the Assam government, academicians, and former president of India and eminent scientist, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

He however denies, when asked if his efforts were aimed at name and fame, and says that what he did was as a conscious citizen. “I never did this for name and fame. Name and fame followed as a result of my labour, which is a different thing,” said Payeng.

On being asked about the hardships he had to face when he began his endeavour of creating a forest, Payeng asserted that it was a struggle all through these years and today he feels happy that his accomplishment has been rewarded.

Initially, Payeng had to face enormous difficulties in planting the samplings. But he soon found a way to solve the problem- by putting earthen pots on bamboo platforms built over the plants.

( Photo courtesy: Jitul Gogoi )

“I just used to fill the pots to the brim, and make some fine punctures underneath for the water to trickle down. This way, once the pots are filled, the plants are watered for almost a week or so, and during that period I was able to focus on planting more samplings,” said Payeng.

The second problem, he said, started arising when wild animals started living in the forest area.

“When the forest grew big, wild animals started living in the forest and they used to venture out sometimes for food, and the elephants used to destroy agricultural cultivation, while tigers used to take away domesticated animals from the villagers,” said Payeng.

This angered the villagers and many of them wanted to destroy the forest, but Payeng managed to convince them to hold on, and promised them that this problem would be solved soon.

( Photo courtesy: Jitul Gogoi )

“I brainstormed for some days and soon came up with an idea- to plant more trees, including a lot of banana trees,” he said.

The banana trees ensured food for the animals, while the forest cover took care of the food for the deer, and once the deer population increased, the food for tigers would be available inside the forest itself.

Following this, the animals stopped creating havoc in the villages, and there was no more trouble for Payeng’s forest from the villagers. Today, Payeng is a very happy man. His conservation efforts have paid rich dividend, and apart from making him a household name, his forest has also benefited the environment.

( Photo courtesy: Jitul Gogoi )

“Most of the riverine areas in Assam are prone to erosion and the only solution is adequate forest cover. The forest created by Payeng will help reduce erosion to a great extent, and moreover his efforts have brought a lot of consciousness on the importance of conservation,” said Rajib Lochan Pegu, Assam’s Water resource minister.

The string of honour and fame which he has earned has in no way diluted Payeng’s daily commitment to his forest.

“I still spend a major portion of my time in the forest, and I will continue doing that till my health permits me,” added Payeng.

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