VILLAGERS in Kuala Sepetang, especially in Kampung Menteri, are unhappy that a portion of the Matang mangrove forest opposite their village has been cleared to make way for development.
The clearing of the forest was believed to have started roughly two to three weeks ago, when people started noticing heavy machinery entering the forest.
Azizan Abdul Aziz said when he first saw the machinery, he thought that it was the Forestry Department carrying out cleaning or maintenance work.
“It was only last week when we saw lorries coming in to fill up the trenches between the forest area and the road that we thought something was wrong,” said the 29-year-old labourer.
“We tried asking around, which was when we heard that the forest had been handed over to a private developer to build houses,” he said when met at the site located along Jalan Taiping-Kuala Sepetang, near the Matang Mangrove Forest Eco Centre on Monday.
Azizan said that if this was true, it would be unfair to the locals as many of them have been applying for the land titles in the same forest area to build planned villages (kampung tersusun).
“I submitted my applications to the Land and Mines Office two years ago, but they kept telling me that the land title couldn’t be issued. “And now, the land has been so easily given to a private developer.
“I’m not happy that the authorities are giving priority to outsiders, instead of the locals who have been living here for years,” he said.
Azizan said that the reason many villagers, mostly those from Kampung Menteri, have been applying for the land is because their village is running out of space.
“We have around 200 houses in the village, but each house is built very close to each other because our land area is small.
“There’s so many villagers living here, and we believe that expanding our village to the area nearby is the best way to solve this issue,” he said.
Fisherman Sulaiman Izhak said, during his many years of applying for a land title, he was told that the land could not be applied for as it belonged to KTM Bhd.
“The authorities were also very strict with us. They didn’t allow us to cut even an arm’s length of wood from the forest when we needed it to fix our broken wooden houses or my fishing boat.
“But they are now allowing the clearing of so many mangrove trees. Where’s the logic in this?” questioned the 39-year-old.
Kampung Menteri is already prone to floods during downpours and Sulaiman said he noticed that water levels have risen after workers started filling in the trenches with soil.
“Now with the rainy season, I’m afraid it could worsen our flood problems,” he said.
MetroPerak referred the matter to Kuala Sepetang assemblyman Chua Yee Ling and a spokesman from the Land and Mines Office.
According to Land and Mines Office records, the part of the forest that has been cleared is not classified under the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve.
“The land, previously owned by KTM Bhd, had been given back to the state government.
“And last year, the land had been privatised with permanent land titles given to 10 individuals.
“As for the other lots, temporary occupancy licences were issued,” the spokesman said.
The land area has been divided into around 100 lots, with each lot measuring 406 sq m (4,370sq ft), starting from the Matang Mangrove Forest Eco Centre to the Matang Road Mosque.