GEOLOGICAL Society of Malaysia president Dr Mazlan Madon said that public safety "must come first" when executing any development plans; and stressed that in the case of Batu Caves, if the soil stability study showed that some parts of the caves were deemed high risk areas, then the recommendations of the study should be respected.
“I have not seen the report, but I take the view that public safety must always take priority.
“We must not take any risks with public safety,” he said.
Mazlan, who is also a Fellow at Akademi Sains Malaysia, added that it was always a challenge to strike a balance between economic development and preserving the natural environment, and for Batu Caves, the natural environment has always been one of its selling points.
“Hence, it would be prudent for all responsible parties and stakeholders to keep the environment there as natural as possible.
Professor Dr Joy Pereira, principal research fellow at the South-east Asia Disaster Prevention, Research Institute in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia concurred with Mazlan, adding that safety must take priority.
“The geologists have presented their findings and now it is up to the project engineers to take that into account.
“It is the responsibility of the engineers to decide on safety factors for their designs based on input from geologists. Experts can quantify risk but it is the affected community that should decide whether that risk is acceptable or not,” added Pereira.
Friends of Batu Caves (FoBC), an environmental coalition, have long called for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to be conducted before any development at the iconic landmark is considered.
FoBC stressed that it was crucial in view of Batu Caves’ status as a national heritage site and its proposed listing as a Unesco World Heritage Site, saying limestone karsts such as Batu Caves were home to many endemic plant and animal species.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel have called for Batu Caves to be nominated as a World Heritage Site.
Last year, the National Heritage Department, however, said that it had no plans to nominate the 400-million-year-old limestone caves to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
A spokesman from the department said Batu Caves did not meet Unesco’s criteria and guidelines because the authenticity and integrity of the popular tourist site was no longer in harmony with its surroundings.
The department also claimed it had no knowledge of the proposed cable car project, which was perplexing considering the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple in Batu Caves is listed as a national heritage site in its website.