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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Batu Caves makeover hits a snag

KUALA LUMPUR: The iconic Batu Caves temple is getting a makeover before Thaipusam which is just over 100 days away. But there is a catch – the temple committee does not have the local council’s permission and the Selayang Municipal Council (MPS) has slapped them with a warning notice.

MPS corporate communications director Mohamad Zin Masoad said the council had served the warning notice under the Streets Drainage and Building Act 1976.

“The notice states that no person shall erect any building without the prior written permission of the local authority,” he said yesterday.

However, he clarified that no fine had been issued, nor had the council attempted to seal the construction site at the base of the temple steps.

A fresh flight of steps is being built in addition to the three already there and there may also be questions of safety, especially during Thaipusam, when more than a million people flock to the temple.

“Once we have served the notice, the temple authorities are supposed to get back to us within two weeks,” Mohamad Zin added.

Mohamad Zin said MPS was only aware of the work on the extension and additional stairs to the cave, but it was not notified about further works going on inside the cave.

He said that council president Suliman Abd Rahman had been notified about the issue and directed the council’s Building Department to take action.

It is learnt that Suliman would visit the construction site in the next two weeks.

According to Petaling Jaya councillor and urban planning lawyer Derek Fernandez, the local authority would have several options available after issuing the notice.

“They can either seal off the construction site, get a demolition order or prosecute the developer.

“Or alternatively, they can try to legalise the structure, depending on the nature of the building, and whether it has building and planning approval or not,” he said.

The frenzied construction at Batu Caves has raised eyebrows among visitors, who fear adverse impact to its natural landscape.

Some claim that new structures are being added to the limestone hill, and work has been going on since last December.

“There are no signboards to tell the public what’s going on and the construction could impact the hill, eventually causing some parts to possibly collapse,” said a regular visitor to the caves.

A recent visit to the site by The Star revealed extensive renovations to the temple at the base of the hill, the stairs leading to the top and in the cave itself.

The fourth set of 272 steps has already taken shape, while the arches at the bottom and the top are also being renovated.

Visitors are encouraged to carry a yellow bucket full of construction material like rocks and cement, and deposit them at the top of the stairs.

Inside the cave, existing temple structures are being repainted, and what appears to be a shoplot is being built next to the current one at the entrance.

The statues at the main temple inside the cave have been newly painted.

At the base of the hill, a portion of the temple beside the stairs, has been demolished, while part of the hill behind it has been cleared of plants. The area has now been levelled and cemented.

People working in the vicinity are tight-lipped as to what was being built there but The Star journalists discovered that an artificial waterfall was in the works – and this has caused concern to visitors and nature lovers.

Malaysian Cave and Karst Conservancy secretary Surin Suksuwan was alarmed by the pictures he saw of the construction.

“It appears that construction is being carried out beyond the existing built-up area,” he said.

Surin said limestone, the core element of Batu Caves hill, would dissolve when in contact with water, and if an artificial waterfall was to be built, it would erode not only the cliff’s face, but the caves.

“Continuous water flow could seep into the caves and cause a collapse,” he said, adding that a proper study with all stakeholders should be carried out first to ensure safety.

Related stories:

The council was notified, says temple committee

Flora and fauna treasures under threat

Tags / Keywords: Religion , Batu Caves , Environment

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