Jadav “Molai” Payeng (born 1963) is an environmental activist and forestry worker from Jorhat, India.Over the course of several decades, he has planted and tended trees on a sandbar of the river Brahmaputra turning it into a forest reserve. The forest, called Molai forest after him,is located near Kokilamukh of Jorhat, Assam, India and encompasses an area of about 1,360 acres / 550 hectares.In 2015, he was honoured with Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India.He was born in the indigenous Mising tribe of Assam.
Jadav Payeng belongs to the Mising tribe in Assam, India. He lives in a small hut in the forest. Binita, his wife, and his 3 children (two sons and a daughter) accompany him.He has cattle and buffalo on his farm and sells the milk for his livelihood, which is his only source of income.In an interview from 2012, he revealed that he has lost around 100 of his cows and buffaloes to the tigers in the forest, but blames the people who carry out large scale encroachment and destruction of forests as the root cause of the plight of wild animals.
In 1979, Payeng, then 16, encountered a large number of snakes that had died due to excessive heat after floods washed them onto the tree-less sandbar. That is when he planted around 20 bamboo seedlings on the sandbar.He started working on the forest in 1979 when the social forestry division of Golaghat district launched a scheme of tree plantation on 200 hectares at Aruna Chapori situated at a distance of 5 km from Kokilamukh in Jorhat district. Molai was one of the labourers who worked in that project which was completed after five years. He chose to stay back after the completion of the project even after other workers left. He not only looked after the plants, but continued to plant more trees on his own, in an effort to transform the area into a forest.
The forest, which came to be known as Molai forest, now houses Bengal tigers, Indian rhinoceros, and over 100 deer and rabbits. Molai forest is also home to monkeys and several varieties of birds, including a large number of vultures.There are several thousand trees, including valcol, arjun (Terminalia arjuna), ejar (Lagerstroemia speciosa), goldmohur (Delonix regia), koroi (Albizia procera), moj (Archidendron bigeminum) and himolu (Bombax ceiba). Bamboo covers an area of over 300 hectares.
A herd of around 100 elephants regularly visits the forest every year and generally stay for around six months. They have given birth to 10 calves in the forest in recent years.
His efforts became known to the authorities in 2008, when forest department officials went to the area in search of a herd of 115 elephants that had retreated into the forest after damaging property in the village of Aruna Chapori, which is about 1.5 km from the forest. The officials were surprised to see such a large and dense forest and since then the department has regularly visited the site.
In 2013, poachers tried to kill the rhinos staying in the forest but failed in their attempt due to Molai who alerted department officials. Officials promptly seized various articles used by the poachers to trap the animals. Molai is ready to manage the forest in a better way and to go to other places of the state to start a similar venture. Now his aim is to spread his forest to another sand bar inside of Brahmaputra.