One most burning issue of today is deforestation and the alarming decline in natural vegetation. A contributor to global warming, it is often cited as one of the leading causes of the greenhouse effect. Also, the incineration and burning of forest plants, to clear the land area, release significant amounts of CO2, which contributes to global warming. Deforestation also hurts the water cycle. Trees haul out groundwater through their roots and release it into the atmosphere. So, when part of a forest is cut, the trees no longer leak out this water, and that results in a much drier climate. The soil cohesion is also affected, so that erosion, flooding, and landslides ensue. Consequently, it affects the decline in biodiversity and leads to the extinction of many species.
In 2009, India ranked 10th worldwide in forest loss, where world annual deforestation is estimated as more than 13 million hectares. It has affected the lives of wild animals and birds including bats. Common birds like sparrow, pigeon, and crow are becoming endangered too. The massive deforestation in India is also causing water problems in several areas.
It is to be noted successive central and state governments have come up with schemes to preserve forests and grow more trees. Even, the importance of environment and natural resources has been highlighted by the inclusion of subjects like Environmental Studies. Forces have been deployed on many sites to look after it and keep the wood mafia in check. Many non-profit organizations too take part in the activities like protesting against massive tree cutting and calling for preserving forests and hold campaigns to plant trees. However, there has been no remarkable progress.
The mass agitation for safeguarding trees and forest, however, was first seen in the ‘Chipko Movement’ of the 1970s. Gaura Devi of Reni, Rajasthan, with just 27 ladies confronted the forest officials and lumbermen who had come to cut the trees in their area. The movement spread across the nation, and similar protests started everywhere. Roughly during the popular times of Chipko Movement, there was a man just on the parallel side of the Indian map to Rajasthan, who too was pitching for the same objective, though without any public support. Over the course of several decades, Jadav Payeng planted and tended trees on a sandbar of the river Brahmaputra, Assam, and single-handedly created a thriving forest spread over more than a thousand acre area. This earned him the title of ‘Molai’ or ‘The Forest Man’.
Jadav was born in a remote village of Assam in 1963. Hailing from a tribal community of the region, he had a normal childhood as simple as it could be in one of the remotest parts of India. He lived there and attended a village school from where he did his Matriculation.
The Incident that stirred him
Being born in the heart of nature, Jadav was always in a way connected to the village, forests, animals and the natural life. During the floods of 1979, walking by the side of the sandbars of the Brahmaputra, Jadav found some snakes swept aground but found them dead a few days later due to heat and the lack of trees. He went to the forest officials to help plant trees, but the matter did not concern them much. So Jadav took the responsibility on his shoulder and, although it was a painstaking process, he started planting bamboos in the sandbars.
Embarking on a strenuous journey: the Odyssey of a common man
The following year, in 1980, the Assam Forestry Division initiated a plan to reforest 200 hectares of land area in one of the sandbars of the river, known as Arun Chapori. Seeing the opportunity to plant trees, Jadav went for it and got a job in the project. The project finished in five years, but Jadav decided to stay there, and since then he lived in Arun Chapori, planting trees and taking care of them.
He watered the plants morning and evening and pruned them. After a few years, the sandbar was transformed into a bamboo thicket. He then decided to grow proper trees. So he collected and planted them. He even transported red ants from the neighboring village because red ants affect the soil’s properties.
In the course of time, the vast land saw a variety of flora and fauna which burst in the sandbar, including endangered animals like the one-horned rhino and Bengal tiger. Even vultures and other migratory birds too started flocking here. Deer and cattle attracted more predators.
Jadav’s Forest – At Now
The wood, famed as Molai Forest, now houses tigers, rhinoceros, deer, and rabbits among many other animals. It is also home to apes and several varieties of birds, including a large number of vultures. There are thousands of trees, which include valcol, arjun, goldmohur, etc. Of all them, bamboo covers most of the area.
His marvelous enterprise came to popular notice in 2008. The forest officials went to the area looking for a herd of elephants that had retreated into the woods after damaging property in Aruna Chapori. The officials got surprised to see such a dense forest, and since then the department has regularly visited the site. The forest is named ‘Molai Forest’ after Jadav’s famous epithet, ‘Molai’.
In 2012, Jadav Payeng was honored at a public function organized by the School of Environmental Sciences, JNU, for his incredible achievement. There, he shared his experience of creating a forest in an interactive session with an audience that included many eminent personalities.
The same year in July, he received an award from the former President, Dr. Kalam. Later in September, he joined the assembly of environmental activists at the seventh global conference of the International Forum for Sustainable Development in France. A month later in November, Sanctuary Asia too acknowledged his works.
In 2013, Indian Institute of Forest Management honored him during their annual event Coalescence. In 2015, he was bestowed Padma Shri, the fourth premier civilian award in the country.
A life devoted to a greater cause
Jadhav lives in a humble abode made of bamboo and wood. His family comprises of his wife, two sons and a daughter, who live with him. He sells cattle milk to nearby villages, which earns him a little but sufficient source of income. After a brief rest and meal, Jadav takes his bag of seedlings and starts walking through his forest to the banks of the river to row across to Mekahi island, his newest reforestation mission.
Jadav on environmental awareness
Jadav visits schools and colleges in various parts of the country and the world for bringing awareness among the young ones. There, he speaks about the role trees and forests play in our lives and how they affect climate. Since former PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s time, a Vanamahotsav has been observing in Indian government schools. For this occasion, millions of saplings are supplied to public institutions to plant them. However, no considerable development has been noticed in the number of trees. Jadav proposes that it should be made compulsory for lower primary classes. Each Class I student must be directed to plant one sapling and nurture it till Class 5, and he/she should be promoted to Class 6 only if the tree is grown by then. Since thousands of students take admission every year in primary schools, according to Jadav, we will have so many trees in 5-10 years, making our surroundings green. Jadav also suggests that children should be taught to co-exist with the wildlife and this will bring a great balance to the whole ecosystem and, shortly, they would help in creating a new green world.
Seeing the works of Jadav, we should put emphasis on the establishment of environmental science research institutes. These research institutes will bring a positive change in the ecosystem. Media can play a vital role in the process by giving more coverage on the environment and highlighting the issues so that it reaches to the common knowledge. The governments have to be more concerned about this as it is now an overreaching problem. Individually, we have to do our bit as well, and that is the most important part of it. If Jadav can do it, we could as well. We have to remember that this man who did not have access to proper resources have made so far and that too all alone. The story of Jadav Payeng has to be taught to children so that it may inspire them from very early age and they would try to engage with nature and its aspects likewise.