Jadav "Molai" Payeng, the ‘Forest Man of India’, has achieved something many would find unimaginable. The Padma Shri awardee is known for single-handedly planting nearly 1,400 acres of forest on a Brahmaputra sandbar in Assam. A resident of Aruna Sapori at Kokilamukh in Jorhat district, Payeng has inspired thousands around the world to take up a cause even if you are alone.
Payeng's quest began in 1979 when he was only 16 years old. During floods that year, a large number of snakes ashore on the sandbar.
After the waters had receded, Payeng found the dead reptiles on the shore. Since then, he decided to plant trees on the sandbar and has not stopped even after planting several thousand trees. He planted, watered and looked after the plants in the process to transform the area into a forest.
"The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested," Payeng told the Times of India in 2012.
Assam government's forest department learnt about Payeng's unimaginable feat only in 2008 after a herd of some 100 wild elephants strayed into the forest.
The Molai forest on Majuli Island has trees such as Bamboom, valcol, arjun, Pride of India, royal Poinciana, silk trees, moj, and cotton trees. Bamboo covers most of the area of the forest. The area is now home to Bengal tigers, Indian rhinoceros, over 100 deer and rabbits, besides apes and several varieties of birds.
Payeng’s story is truly inspirational, especially for those who doubt that one man can change the world. On Independence Day, we must pledge that whatever the odds, we must continue to work to make India a better place to live in for everyone.