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JNU salutes the "Forest Man of India" on the occasion of Earth Day

Mr. JADAV PAYENG is a living example of those rare people whose selfless dedication and love for nature has safe-guarded our environment and indeed our lives, since time immemorial. JNU invited him to acknowledge his great contribution to nature conservation. Here are excerpts from the interview with Mr Payeng taken by Naba Hazarika, a Research Scholar, SES during the Earth Day celebration at SES, JNU.

Q. Which part of Jorhat district do you belong to?
I was born in Kokilamukh Borhup Urna in the middle of the mighty Brahmaputra in the Jorhat district, Assam. Due to bank erosion of river Brahmaputra, my parents shifted to the Mekahi Chapari of Majuli (World's biggest River Island). Mekahi was eroded by the river again, then my parents again shifted to Majuli Karichuk village and I stayed in Kurukatoli Bamun gaon at Anil Borthakur's home till 10th Standard.

Q. Where and how did you get involved in tree plantation?
After 10th standard, due to economic problems I travelled around India especially in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Mumbai for searching a job. But, I returned again to Jorhat and worked with "Social Forestry" of Golaghat till 1980. I worked as a labourer in the seed farm of the Department. After finishing the five year duration of "Social Forestry Project", I stayed on at the project site. In 1980, floods of Brahmaputra washed a variety of snakes ashore on the sandbar. I found the place full of dead reptiles after the water receded. That shocking scene turned my life.
The area was a vast stretch of totally sandy soil, devoid of any trees. Due to heat waves lots of snakes died. I could do nothing but only weep. I requested the Forest Department to help me in growing trees. But they replied in the negative. They advised me to start by planting bamboos. I began to stay in the sandbar area all alone. I bought a few cows and buffalos with the little money I had earned from the Forestry department. I spread red ants in the area as it changes soil quality.

Q. What kinds of plants and animals are found in your forest area now?
After bamboo plantation, I started to plant small and big trees as well. Aajar (local name in Assamese), Bombax ceiba, Terminalia arjuna, Gmelina arborea, Shorea robusta, Tectona grandis etc are the trees found in my forest now. The animals in my forest are deer, cows, buffaloes, fox, types of lizards, snakes, vultures, storks, owls as well as pigs etc. Even the one horn Rhino and Royal Bengal Tiger from Kaziranga National Park migrate to my forest area during the proper season. Deer helped me a lot in plantation as their excreta fertilize the soil. A tigress has recently migrated from Kaziranga National Park to my forest and given birth to three cubs. Groups of elephants migrate to my forest from Arunachal Pradesh also. Around 150 elephants come to the forest and stay for at least a month. Migration of animals occurs due to availability of food and water in the months from November to February.

Q. How long did you spend for plantation?
About 30 years since 1980. I was a teenager then. Because of my great attraction to nature, I decided to spend my whole life with animals and plants inside forest.

Q. What is the area of your forest cover?
The entire sandbar is around 1200 hectares. Now the green forest extends up to 550 hectares. Only "Segun" covers around 60 hectares. Rest of the area is covered by other trees.

Q. Why do the local people call your forest as "Molai Kathoni"?
In Assamese, it means "Molai Forest" after my nick name "Molai".

Q. Will you like to go back to Assam again for the purpose of forestation after seeing Delhi?
Now I am around 50. After spending the whole life inside the forest I would no more like to come outside, and I have no other dreams- like to build mansions for my kids also. Now, I think it is my moral duty to conserve nature for which I have become a familiar face in the country. My life is a part of nature. I know I can never be as rich as nature.
My message to you "Payengji", ----We are honoured to have you today. We can't fulfil your requirements. We can only help you with some ideas toward nature conservation. Go and fulfil your ambition. We believe, God and Nature both will give you the inspiration and strength to carry ahead your noble mission.
I would like to convey my best regards to the SES students, councillors and pay my humble gratitude to the SES faculty and Dean. It is because of her effort that we could recognize such noble work and serve it as a rare instance before the world.

Naba Hazarika, Research Scholar
School of Environmental Science

Field Notes from Pokhran

As part of the M.Phil Research Methodology course, second semester students of the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament (CIPOD), SIS, were taken by Dr. Moushumi Basu, for a two day field trip to Khetolai village in Pokhran tehsil. The study trip aimed to introduce students to the basics of interviews, recording of oral histories, sample collection, analysis of data, etc. The trip included a visit to the Pokhran Firing Range, that was also the test site for the nuclear blasts. The trip aimed to introduce students to building up their own archives of material to supplement official documentation available on the blasts. In a sense, the trip sought to bridge the divide between international and domestic, official and non-official sources that are available for scholars to use.

On coming back the students, divided into five groups, made presentations of their field trip before the Faculty and other students at a seminar in the school on the 6 of March. The first group provided a background of the Khetolai village. Adjoining the Army Firing Range in Pokhran Tehsil, stands the village of Khetolai. Interestingly, while it was the residents of Khetolai who gave their lands up in 1965 for the Army to make a firing Range, and on both instances they were the closest human habitation that bore the effects of the nuclear blasts, Khetolai's name never appeared in the official narrative. Rather it was the tehsil headquarters at Pokhran, located about 25 kms away from Khetolai, that grabbed all the headlines.

The second group presented an interesting comparison and contrast between the various narratives -international, national and local, related to the nuclear blasts. Focusing on the oral histories collected from the aged residents of the village, they recounted the events as they unfolded in Khetolai in the aftermath of the blasts. The third group focused on the socio-economic profile of the village-health, education, literacy levels etc. Since the cattle are allowed to graze inside the firing range, it was of some concern when many of the residents complained that over the years, many of the animals suffered from severe deformities. Women residents also complained of high rates of miscarriage and cancer of the ovary.

The fourth group made a presentation of perception of risks among the population and the absence of risk management mechanisms in the village. Their analysis revealed that health education and awareness could reduce levels of fear and trauma. The fifth group made an interesting presentation on a gendered perspective of the debate on nuclear weapons. Based on interviews, they provided an analysis of how perception of risks and dangers of living in close proximity to the Firing Range was different between women and men. These presentations were followed by comments from faculty members. It was suggested that the practice of taking students on field trips as part of the research methodology course needed to be institutionalized and made an essential part to enhance the quality of research.

M.Phil (Second Sem.) Students
Centre for International Politics, Organization & Disarmament, SIS

Physical fitness training program for the JNU Mountaineering Club

JNU Sports Office organized the physical fitness training program for the JNU mountaineering Club from 15-25 May 2012 at the sports complex, JNU. The one hour specific fitness training program was designed and implemented by Vikram Singh, Assistant Director, Physical Education for the summer mountaineering trek probables. The program included systematic and scientific exercises for the development of specific muscle group strength endurance and cardio-respiratory capacity required for trekking. Twenty four JNU students attended the said program and they were simultaneously tested on different physical fitness parameters. Trekking related nutritional guidelines were prepared and provided to the JNU students. A quiet encouraging response was received as feedback from the students who attended the program.

Vikram Singh, Assistant Director,
Physical Education, Sports Office, JNU

First International Fascination of Plants Day

18 May, 2012 was celebrated as the first international Fascination of Plants Day at the School of Life Sciences, JNU. Earlier this year, 18th May was internationally decided upon to be celebrated as the "Fascination of Plants Day-2012" under the umbrella of European Plant Science Organization. Over 583 institutions in 39 countries organized various events on this day with 4 countries giving this event their national patronage. In India, under the national coordination of Prof. Neera Bhalla Sarin, Dean, School of Life Sciences, JNU, several institutes and universities, besides JNU, organized functions of general interest to mark the event. In the School of Life Sciences, JNU the target group was school children (classes 6th -12th) mostly of the employees living on the campus and from nearby schools. Around 80 students aged 8-20 participated in the events. The programme started with an introduction to the FoPD-2012 by Dr. Mohd Aslam Yusuf, a UGC-Dr. D. S. Kothari Fellow at SLS, JNU and co-cordinator for the event. He set the tone for a fascinating day ahead for the enthusiastic kids by showing videos of different types of movements in plants that go unnoticed to untrained and unaided eyes. Prof Sarin, while welcoming the children and the chief-guest Prof. K. C. Bansal, Director, National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, further delved on the significance of organizing this plant day and the initiative taken up by her to open the laboratories and other research facilities for the school going kids on this day so that they can have a real feel of doing research in plant sciences. The lecture by Prof. Bansal, touched upon many facts and features of plants. At the outset he appreciated the fact of interacting with the children by saying that often it is a big challenge to convey the research efforts of the scientists to children, who are the future of the society, in a comprehensible manner. He discussed various aspects of different types of plants, their evolution, and their traditional and modern uses as food, medicines, and healthy and happy living. He also introduced the children to the judicious use of the promising transgenic plant technologies by citing examples of vitamin A enriched golden rice, edible vaccine carrying banana fruit and pest resistant Bt cotton. By the end of his lecture it was clear to all that Prof. Bansal succeeded against the challenge of connecting scientifically with the thoughts of the children. Dr. Manju Singh, research associate, closed the didactic session with a vote of thanks to all the office staff and students involved in the planning and execution of this event at JNU, specially its vice chancellor Prof. Sudhir Kumar Sopory and the public relations officer Ms. Poonam Kudaisya who supported the event whole-heartedly.

The occasion also provided experiential learning to the children by taking them around the SLS and introducing them to the ways and means of doing research in plant tissue culture and genetic engineering. They were shown the laboratories, tissue culture rooms, transgenic facility, and the plant nursery. The day was rounded off by providing snacks to the children who ventured out on a scorching-hot summer vacation to quench their thirst for plant science research. As a token of remembrance they were handed potted plants of the medicinally important Aloe vera and Tulsi, to nurture with care and learn about their medicinal uses, for which Mr. Sunil Kumar of the horticulture department was thanked. The occasion was a grand success.

Neera Bhalla Sarin, Professor,
School of Life Sciences


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