When Jadav ‘Molai’ Peyong – now a 56-year old man – returned to his small river island home of Aruna Sapori on the Brahmaputra river after completing his tenth-standard exams, the sight that greeted him horrified him beyond imagination. While the sandbar was never a lush green landscape to speak of, its condition had severely deteriorated to the point of resembling a desert in recent times. Snakes wandered aimlessly across the dry landscape (i.e. the ones that survived these severe conditions) as the trees that provided them with cover and protection were no more due to the recent floods and general deforestation. The government did try to fix things, but - as governments tend to do - it was more a band-aid solution to a big problem than anything concrete, as all they did was hire a few workers to plant a couple of trees and call it a day. Jadav was one of the many workers who were hired for that job, but he was the only one who stayed back to continue that operation.
If you visit Aruna Sapori today, there’s a good chance you won’t believe anything we said above, as it’s practically a transformed landscape now, all due to the single-handed efforts of Jadav. The island now houses 550-hectares of dense forest, and is named after the man himself; Molai forest. It’s home to a rich ensemble of flora and fauna; including the Bengal tiger, Indian rhinoceros, many species of deer and rabbits, as well as trees like Valcol, Arjun, Goldmohur and Koroi, among many, many others.
If the ‘single-handed’ part of it sounds too far-fetched to be believable, as who really cares enough to undertake such a massive endeavor outside of rich philanthropists or local governments under public scrutiny these days, it’s because it absolutely is.
Starting when he was 15, Peying undertook the reforestation of the island on his own for a whooping 40 years of life. It won’t be a stretch to say that he dedicated his life to the effort; tending to the plants, making efforts to keep poachers away and making the locals aware of the importance of the endeavour all on his own. If the first question you’d ask is ‘why didn’t the government do anything to help him?’, it’s because they didn’t know about what he was upto till as late as 2008, when they discovered it while chasing some of the elephants who had damaged some fields in the nearby villages.
He still lives in a small hut in the middle of the forest with his wife and three children, and doesn’t come across as someone with any other motive behind what he did than reforestation of the island, even though he has received quite a bit of fame and offers to replicate the same in other deforested parts across the world. For what he did, he was awarded the Padma Shri in 2015, and you could still go and check out the forest on one of your travels to Assam. Make sure to apply for the necessary permissions if you do, though, as it remains a protected area due to the sensitivity of its ecosystem.
We first read about Jadav here.
Note: The picture is for representational purposes only.
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