Jadav Payeng receiving the prestigious Karmayogi Award 2020 in New Delhi Credit: EastMojo image

New Delhi: More popularly known by the title, ‘the Forest Man of India’, renowned conservationist Jadev Payeng of Assam was feted with the prestigious Karmayogi Award for 2020 in New Delhi on Saturday evening.

Payeng received the honour in recognition of his contribution to afforestation on a sandbar of the River Brahmaputra. Now named Molai after Payeng’s nickname, the sandbar is part of Majuli, the world’s largest river island.

Speaking after his felicitation, Payeng told a full house, “My work is above religion or politics; it is about nature!”

‘Forest Man of India’ Jadav Payeng during his speech at the award ceremony

He then went on to speak about his journey in life and the dire need to make people aware of the need to conserve nature, sprinkling his narration with interesting episodes from his own eventful life.

Once when he learned that some people had come to his area to fell down trees, he confronted them with the warning, “Cut me up before you cut them down. I won’t allow you to cut down any trees!”

The loggers eventually relented and left, Payeng told a cheering audience.

Since the early 1980s, he has almost single-handedly planted over 550 hectares of forest on Molai, an area that would roughly equal 15 football fields!

Commending Payeng on his achievement, the chief guest at the event, Union minister of environment, forests and climate change & heavy industries and public enterprises Prakash Javadekar also urged others to take the initiative on conservation.

“A research institute has estimated that if a person plants seven trees in his lifetime, he will be able to create an oxygen bank for himself. Although several amongst us plant saplings, it’s important that we also pay attention to their protection while they are growing,” the minister said.

He added that the central government’s school nursery programme was an important step in the direction of inculcating the importance of tree plantation among the younger generation.

BJP national secretary Sunil Deodhar observed, “You will find many great souls like him dwelling in forests and among tribal communities all over India. There is a need to visit those places to find them. But there’s no need to ‘civilise’ or ‘inform’ them. There’s rather a need to gather wisdom about this land from them because they know the way to victory, happiness and contentment.”

Additional commissioner of Delhi Police and co-head of SPUNER, Hibu Tamang, who was also present on the dais, said that achievers like Payeng were a source of inspiration for everyone, including people of the Northeast region.

“Tree plantation along the mighty Brahmaputra and other river banks will play a major role in minimising the damage caused by natural calamities like floods and landslides,” he surmised.

Payeng is also a recipient of the country’s fourth-highest civilian honour, Padmashri, and several other national and international awards. These days when he is not tending to his forest, he devotes his time to working on the draft of his first book based on his personal experiences in the area of conservation.

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