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Thursday July 26, 2007

Land clearing rings alarm bells


UNKNOWN land clearing at Bukit Gasing has become a cause for alarm, as the site poses not just a threat to the environment, but also to users of the Bukit Gasing jogging trail.  

According to nearby residents and joggers, the vast area of land was cleared about three weeks ago. 

Barren: A huge tract of land has been cleared and flattened.
“I watched trees get bulldozed, lorries dumping sand and the ground being flattened; this happened from 8am till about 5pm every day for the last three weeks,” said Mohd Saad Abdul, 68, who has been exercising along the trail since 2000.  

Mohd Saad, who accesses the jogging trail from where the land has currently been cleared, said the sand came from construction at the archway at the entrance of Pantai Hillpark.  

“I heard rumours that there could be development for bungalows on this land, but I’m not sure. It’s sad that the greenery is gone,” said Mohd Saad.  

It was discovered during a site visit that there were no signboards indicating the ongoing development on the land.  

Unhappy: Saad and his wife Masyitah Hamid, 58, hike down a trail to the cleared area, once dense with foliag
Initial investigations by the Joint Action Committee for Bukit Gasing revealed that the land clearing activity – which is being carried out on the portion of the hill under Kuala Lumpur jurisdiction – could have encroached on Petaling Jaya boundary.  

“MBPJ and the Petaling Land Office will ascertain the boundaries between KL and PJ, and if the clearing has encroached into PJ land, we will take action against the culprit,” said Bukit Gasing assemblyman Datuk Dr Lim Thuang Seng, adding that his office has been working with the public to save and maintain the Bukit Gasing forest for educational and recreational purposes.  

Also present during the site visit were Joint Action Committee for Bukit Gasing (JAC) chairman Derek Fernandez, Petaling Land Office personnel and Petaling Jaya City Council officers.  

The section of the hill within PJ was gazetted as a forest reserve in 1961 and the JAC has been actively lobbying for the KL portion of the hill to also be gazetted.  

According to Fernandez, City Hall and the Federal Territories ministry had, during a meeting with the Committee last year promised to gazette 50% of their portion of the hill as forest reserve.“In addition, City Hall has also promised a 200m buffer zone between the PJ and KL boundaries,” said Fernandez.  

Red line: Dr Lim pointing to the boundary between PJ and KL at the site.
“Ultimately, the exact location of the area to be gazetted on the KL side must first be ascertained, and the gazette take place before any development is allowed.” 

Should it be found that the illegal activity had impinged on state land, the developer can be charged for carrying out development (which includes land clearing) inconsistent with the zone under Section 26 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976, which carries a fine of RM500,000 or imprisonment not exceeding two years, or both.  

Meanwhile, council bylaws stipulate that every tree chopped down illegally will involve a fine of RM50,000.  

Even if Land Office investigations reveal that the land clearing activities may not have encroached on PJ jurisdiction, what remains glaring is that the illegal activity has clearly trespassed on the promised buffer zone.  

“The National Physical Plan states that there must be a contiguous green zone which should not be broken, that there should be a buffer zone and that only low-impact development can be carried out in adjacent areas,” said Fernandez. 

Boundaries aside, what remains a cause for concern is that portions of the hill had been deemed unstable and unsuitable for development.  

“The sand has been dumped over what used to be a stream here. Now, we worry that there could be soil erosion because when there is a downpour the rain has no place to flow to and water will stagnate.  

Covered: Soil has even been dumped into a stream flowing through the area.
“The damage caused on this side is not to be taken lightly because it is too near the joggers trail which is barely a few hundred metres away, and the safety of the joggers and trail users are at risk,” said Dr Lim.  

Said Friends of Bukit Gasing chairman Dr Khoo Boo Khean: “It's not a matter of which part of the land belongs to who. We are all Malaysians, this is our land and it is our responsibility to care for the environment.” 

Fernandez, meanwhile, called for the authorities involved to ensure that the guilty culprit be banned from undertaking further development until the land is restored to its original state and the full amount of the fine paid.  

When contacted, a spokesman for the developer concerned said it was aware that there was an ongoing inquiry into the matter by the authorities and it would wait for the outcome before making any comment.  

The spokesman added that the developer would work closely with the authorities.  

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