Man creates forest single-handedly on Brahmaputra sand bar

A man in his mid-50s helped grow a huge forest on a sand bar in the middle of the mighty Brahmaputra in Assam's Jorhat district, which has caught attention of the government, tourists and film-makers.

The 30-year-long effort of Jadav Payeng, known among local people as 'Mulai', to grow the woods, stretching over an area of 550 hectares, has been hailed by the Assam Forest Department as 'examplary'.

Mulai began work on the forest in 1980 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 five KMs from Kokilamukh in Jorhat district.

Assistant conservator of forest Gunin Saikia, who is presently posted at Sivsagar district, said, “Mulai was one of the labourers who worked in our project which was completed after five years. He chose to stay back after the completion of the project as others left."

Mulai not only looked after the plants, but continued to plant more trees on his own effort slowly transforming the area into a big forest, Saikia noted.

“This is perhaps the biggest forest in the middle of a river,” Saikia, who was instrumental in conceiving the project, said.

The department planned to launch another plantation programme in the area this year, Saikia said pointing out that there was ample scope to extend the forest by another 1,000 hectares.

Not only tourists are flocking to the woods in droves, a famous British film-maker Tom Robert went there two years back to shoot one of his films.

The forest, known in Assamese as 'Mulai Kathoni' or Mulai forest, houses around four tigers, three rhinoceros, over a hundred deer and rabbits besides apes and innumerable varieties of birds, including a large number of vultures.

It has several thousand trees among which are valcol, arjun, ejar, goldmohur, koroi, moj and himolu. There are bamboo trees too covering 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 also gave birth to 10 calves in the forest in recent times.

Mulai’s efforts caught attention of the forest department only during 2008 when a team of forest officials went to the area in search of a herd of 115 elephants that sneaked into the forest after damaging property of villagers at Aruna chapori, around 1.5 km from the forest.

“The officials were surprised to see such a large and dense forest and since then the department is showing interest on conservation with regular visit to the site,” Mulai said.

Mulai, an avid nature lover, has constructed a small house in the vicinity of the reserve and stays with his family which comprises wife, two sons and a daughter.

He earns his living by selling milk of cows and buffalows he has kept. Mulai has one regret, though. The state government has so far not provided any financial assistance to him to carry out his 'mission' except for the Forest Department which from time to time supplies him saplings for plantation.

“A few years back, poachers tried to kill the rhinos staying in the forest but failed in their attempt due to Mulai who alerted department officials. Immediately our officials swung into action and seized various articles used by the poachers to trap the animals,” Atul Das, forest beat officer, said.

In the last three months Das along with a few of his staff are camping in the area to stave off any attempt by poachers to kill the rhinos.

“We are persuading the state government to initiate necessary measures with the Centre for declaring the area a mini wildlife sanctuary,” Pranon Kalita, leader of Jorhat district Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad, said.

Member of Parliament from Jorhat and former DoNER Minister B K Handique would also take up the matter with the concerned union ministry for declaring the area into a wildlife sanctuary, Kalita said.

Mulai said, “If the Forest Department promises me to manage the forest in a better way, I shall go to other places of the state to start a similar venture,” he said.

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