The Forest man of India


Recently, I saw a post on Facebook saying that those who complain about heat today are those who forgot to plant a tree yesterday. That is true in some sense. Victor Hugo has said that people do not lack strength. They lack will.

On one ordinary day like today in 1979, a willful young boy took one step further from everyone else around him. Jadav Molai Payeng, a boy of 16, saw a large number of dead snakes on the shores of river Brahmaputhra. These snakes were washed ashore by the floods. They died due to the intense heat as there was no shade on the river bank. He was disturbed by this sight. The village elders gave him some bamboo saplings and asked him to plant them. Young Jadav began his mission by selecting a small riverine island to plant the saplings.


He then joined the tree planting project launched by the district administration. Although the project concluded within 5 years, he decided to stay back and look after the plants. From the first day he planted the saplings, a few more were planted every following day, ritually and continuously for 39 years so far. This was not an easy task. The plantation area grew out every day. It was getting difficult to water all the plants in the whole area. Jadav built a bamboo platform above the saplings. Earthen pots with holes were filled with water and kept on the platform. The water would drip along the bamboo rods on to the plants, seep throughout, until the pots were drained of water. Then he would refill them. He also released ants, termites, earthworms and other insects to the soil, to improve the soil condition. Initially, he chose bamboo and other local plants. More valuable species like teak were planted only about 15 years ago.


As the plants grew large and tall with time, the whole area became a forest, which is known as the Molai Sanctuary, after him. It is now home to Bengal tigers, Indian rhinoceros, elephants, birds, over 100 deer, apes and many more animals. There are several thousand trees, including Terminalia arjuna, Lagerstroemia speciosa, Delonix regia, Albizia procera, Archidendron bigeminum and Bombax ceiba. Bamboo, the starting plant, covers an area of over 300 hectares. As the forest grew out, new problems surfaced. Wild elephants from the Molai forest made it a habit to stray to the villages. This is common even to Sri Lanka. Also, some tigers have been noted to have hunted fowls and pheasants from the village. This time, Molai’s fellow humans were troubled by his hand grown forest. Villagers threatened to destroy the forest, if the dangers prevailed anymore. In response, he planted more trees. This time, the plants were selected to feed the animals. One of them was banana, a favourite of the elephants. When animals had plenty of food in their habitat, they stopped coming out to the human settlements in search of food. As the deer population increased, the dangers from wild tigers faded away. Molai has managed to protect the rare rhinoceros living in the forest from hunters several times by alerting forestry department officials.

Mr. Payeng’s family is very supportive of his cause. His wife and 3 children live with him in a small house near the forest. They rear cattle and sell milk for a living. He says that his family will always lend him a hand willingly to plant more trees. In 2015, Jadav Payeng was honoured with the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India. Many documentaries were made making him the subject. Some of them are The Molai Forest by Jitu Kalita in 2012, Foresting Life by Aarthi Shrivastava and The Forest man of India by Ankur Didwania in 2013 which won the best documentary category at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. A children’s book called Jadav and the tree place was written by Vinayak Varma. Despite all his achievements, this great human being remains the same simple man he was before the world learnt of his achievement. He is a true conservationist who lives close to the nature and an inspiration for many more generations of people from all around the world in many ways.

Jadav Payeng honoured with Padma Shri


Here is the video based on Jadav Paveng



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