IT has been happening too often. Residents in the Klang Valley wake up to dry taps as a result of pollution to river reserves.
Despite having strict laws such as the Environmental Quality Act 1974 and action being taken against the perpetrators, river pollution is still happening.
This then poses the question if the punishment under Section 25 of the Act is an effective deterrent to stop wrongdoers from contaminating rivers.
In the Act, those responsible in contaminating rivers will be taken to court and fined up to RM100,000 or face a jail term up to five years or both.
To-date, there has not been a single case where those found guilty for contaminating rivers were put behind bars. They were only issued a fine.
“If you notice, action will only be taken once the pollution causes a shutdown and only the main culprits are fined.
“However, there are also others involved on a smaller scale, who had contributed to the shutdown, but they get away scot-free,” said Malaysian Water Forum research and policy executive Nah Kok Wai.
Nah added that for water treatment plants to be shut down as a result of the river being contaminated, it would take an accumulation of pollutants and it could not be just from one isolated incident.
There are culprits contributing to this almost every day.
“In fact, the laws are actually good but sadly the enforcement is poor. Why wait for something to happen and only then take action?” he added.
Nah explained that caring for the river was not one department’s job but the joint effort of many different departments and agencies.
“Once you have evidence of those responsible in contaminating the river, the local government can revoke the licence of the operator and blacklist it in future.
“If local governments do not play their part, then what is stopping those responsible from starting another business and polluting the river again?” he asked.
There have been calls for local councils to study the environmental impacts on the land near rivers before approving business licences, especially industrial ones.
Water and Energy Consumer Association of Malaysia (Wecam) president Saravanan Thambirajah concurred that existing laws were adequate to punish those involved in river pollution.
“Actually, if all the departments in charge of water and environment come together to take action against the offender, the maximum fine can reach RM2mil.
“But the problem is they are pointing fingers at one another instead of working together to resolve this issue.
“When I asked the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) about taking action, I was told that raw water was out of its jurisdiction,” he said.
Saravanan added that a solution to river pollution would not be found until authorities take swift action and stop finger pointing.
He added that more officers should be sent to the ground, especially at hotspots, to do frequent inspections and take action against pollutants on the spot.
“River pollution will definitely continue because authorities cannot even get themselves properly coordinated to resolve this nagging issue,” he said.
He also urged consumers to stand up for their rights and come together to sue those slacking in their duties and causing them hardship when there is disruption to the water supply.
Meanwhile, Global Environment Centre river care programme coordinator Dr K. Kalithasan feels the current existing punishment for those causing river pollution is not adequate.
“The law is there but I think the jail term and fine should be increased to reflect current times and all the psychological stress caused,” he said.
For example, RM100,000 will not be enough to even pay for the river rehabilitation and human impact costs.
Being affected by the water cut himself, he had to spend unnecessary money to buy drinking water daily for his family and even had to send his son and mother-in-law to his sister’s house, which had water.
“So who is going to compensate all this to the thousands who were affected by water cuts? RM100,000 is just a small fee to pay for such a big offence,” he said.
He also urged the authorities to create a platform for community engagement and not just rely on their helpline which has proven to be ineffective.
Currently experiencing the inconveniences of water cut is Pandan Perdana Residents’ Association (RA) chairman Lim Ah Chai, who said there had been no water supply for more than four days now.
“Lots of people are suffering because of the irresponsible action of one party, so I hope authorities will no longer close one eye and take harsher action against those responsible.
“The loopholes in the law and corruption are the main reasons why the culprits are not afraid to commit this irresponsible act,” he said.
He added that all minor and major contributors to the pollution should be hauled up and punished by authorities.
Lim also urged the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to investigate local authorities who have been issuing licences to such factories who are polluting the river.
Echoing his thoughts was Taman Serdang Utama resident Liew Peng Kwai, who thinks all the factories and plants located near rivers should be monitored closely by the authorities.
“They should be relocated and those who flout the law should feel the full brunt of it no matter how small or big their mistake.
“Without clean water, our quality of life is greatly affected,” he said.
Liew, whose neighbourhood suffered for 12 days without water supply, added that it is time the culprits were hauled up and made to pay dearly for their actions.
This includes imposing a jail term and a higher fine for the sake of the environment and the people, he added.
The Selangor Water Management Authority (Luas), in a statement, said the River Basin Task Force and the Coast and River Basin Management Committee had been set up to deal with various issues involving pollution of water sources in Selangor.
It added that stern action would be taken against offenders through compound notices, seizures and legal action under various enactments and laws.
At the same time, to strengthen monitoring of development on river reserve land, 105 streams have been gazetted as protected zones under Section 48 of the LUAS Enactment 1999, bringing the total to 680 rivers and streams, including Sungai Selangor, Sungai Langat and Sungai Damansara.
The statement also said monitoring river reserves and corridors was important to prevent encroachment and illegal development that can detrimentally affect the geomorphology and water quality of the rivers that are the main source of water in Selangor.
When contacted, Selangor’s Green Technology and Environment committee chairman Elizabeth Wong said future prevention of river contamination would involve more stringent monitoring of factories and industrial zones by the Department of Environment (DOE) and local governments.
“Our current laws are strict on the fines imposed for such offences but, unfortunately, no polluter has been sentenced to prison so far.
“The law should be amended to make the jail term mandatory for those involved in polluting rivers,” said Wong adding that they had closed, sealed and seized the premises involved in the recent Sungai Semenyih odour pollution.
The DOE also cleared all waste in the premises to properly dispose and record as court evidence, while the land will be rehabilitated by Luas and the Kajang Municipal Council (MPKj).
“Investigation and chemical analysis is still underway and we are unable to disclose this until we file a case in court.
“Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali has also instructed the the Land Office, MPKj and Luas to organise joint operations to carry out checks to ensure the safety of the Sungai Semenyih river reserve and basin,” she said.