Mr. Jadav “Molai” Payeng, 52, known as the ‘Forest Man of India’ lives in a self-created forested island in Majuli — a vast sandbar on the banks of the Brahmaputra. A stretch of 1,360 acres, abounding in flora and fauna, the thick forest is impermeable to sound. His hut, where he stays with his family, is the only dwelling, with no human life for nearly seven kilometres. It took 36 long years for Mr. Payeng to build the forest. President Pranab Mukherjee presented Mr. Payeng the Padma Shri for his contribution to the environment.
Mr. Abdul Kareem, a former businessman, was another green champion who was feted on Thursday. The 68-year-old forest man converted 32 acres of barren laterite rock hillside in Puliyamkulam in Kasargod, Kerala. The five acres he bought in 1977 had no water, no trees, no birds. In the next few years, he shut down his business and bought more land. He gave the work of planting trees to adivasis in the area, also giving them place to build their homes, creating a colony of 60 huts. “The adivasis know the trees. I am just an ordinary man,” he said.