Jadav Payeng, 52
Going green is expensive. The National Green India Mission entails Rs 46,000 crore for 10 years to bring 33% of the country’s landmass under forest and tree cover. Another $10million is powering NGOs nationwide for forest and wildlife conservation.
“They are growing trees on money or money on trees?” asks Jadav Payeng, like most Mishing tribal men famed for their earthy repartees.
Payeng, 52, should know. All he has had spend to turn a 550-hectare barren sandbar on river Brahmaputra into a forest in 30 years is his labour. Of course, one has to be as passionate as him about trees and the will to accomplish the impossible single-handedly.
Compare Payeng’s ‘free trees’ with the Rs 10.52crore the State forest development agency Assam received from the Union ministry of environment and forests during the 2011-12 fiscal under a national afforestation programme. The money did little to improve the state’s forest cover; the last Forest Survey of India said Assam lost 19 sq km of forest from 2009-2011.
Forest officials, though, noticed Payeng’s work in 2008. They were amazed by the floral diversity – the forest has more than 100,000 trees – that housed reptiles, monkeys, deer, wild boars, wild buffaloes, leopards and birds.
Locals subsequently named the forest Mulai Kathoni, Mulai being Payeng’s nickname. In Assamese, Mulai is a word derived from either ‘root’ or ‘original’. That, greens say, makes Payeng the ‘orignal forest man of India’ rooted to his ‘friends with roots’.