The drastic effects of climate change are now being felt globally and the tumultuous adverse impacts due to global warming are quite visible.

India is no exception to this phenomenon, while Odisha has been bearing a major brunt of the devastating climate change effects. Multiple cyclones on an annual basis, droughts, floods, coastal erosion, wildfires and lightning deaths have been ravaging the state.

Victims of climate change are far too many in Odisha and the situation will only worsen over time unless urgent steps and concrete actions are put in place. Given the backdrop, Dharitri, the most credible and impartial regional daily of Odisha which will turn 50 this year, is initiating steps to create awareness among the youth of the state about this most urgent issue of climate change by hosting the third edition of Dharitri Youth Conclave November 24, 2023 at the Rail Auditorium here.

This year’s conclave brings together youth icons and environmentalists to discuss climate emergency and the path ahead. The expert panelist includes Padma Shri awardee Jadav Payeng – conservationist and Forest Man of India, Arun Krishnamurthy – environmental activist and founder of Environmental Foundation of India (EFI), Sneha Shahi – environmentalist and Richard Mohapatra – managing editor of Down To Earth magazine.

Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng, an environmental activist and forestry worker from Majuli, is popularly known as the Forest Man of India. Over the past several decades, he has planted and tended trees on a sandbar of Brahmaputra river, turning it into a reserve forest. The forest, called Molai forest after him, is located near Kokilamukh of Jorhat in Assam and spreads over an area of about 1,360 acres / 550 hectares.

In 2015, Jadav was honoured with Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India. He was born in the indigenous Mising tribe of Assam. In 1979, Payeng, then 19, encountered a large number of snakes which had died due to excessive heat after floods washed them onto the barren sandbar. That is when he planted around 20 bamboo seedlings on the sandbar.

He not only looked after the plants, but continued to plant more trees on his own, transforming the area into a forest. It is now home to Bengal tigers, Indian rhinoceros, and over 100 deer and rabbits. The forest also has monkeys and several species of birds, including a large number of vultures.

There are several thousand trees. Bamboo covers an area of over 300 hectares. A herd of around 100 elephants regularly visits the forest every year and generally stays for around six months. They have given birth to 10 calves there in recent years.

His efforts became known to the authorities in 2008, when Forest officials went to the area in search of 115 elephants that had retreated into the forest after damaging property in Aruna Chapori village, about 1.5 km from the forest. The officials were surprised to see such a large and dense forest.

Payeng is ready to manage the forest in a better way and 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 Brahmaputra.