‘Do not develop green lung’

The Orang Asli community from Pulau Kempas, Busut Baru, Bukit Cheeding and Bukit Kemandul gathering to oppose the state government’s proposal to degazette the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve at the Kampung Bukit Cheeding community hall. — Photos: SAMUEL ONG/The Star

THE “Protect Selangor Forests Coalition” is urging the state government to halt its plan to degazette 958ha of the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve and consider the impact the move would have on the Orang Asli community, as well as the flora and fauna there.

The coalition, comprising several non-governmental organisations, said the state government was not provided adequate information about the forest.

It was reported earlier that the state government was planning to degazette 97% of the forest to allow for mixed development in the area.

Mentri Besar Amirudin Shari had said that some 40% of the area proposed for degazettement had been damaged by fire and was no longer considered virgin forest.

Global Environment Centre director Faizal Parish said the state must explain to the public details of the proposed development.

“We were told the degazettement was to allow for mixed development but we are yet to receive any information about what projects are being planned, ” he said.

Faizal said the degazettement would lead to a massive loss of biodiversity and adversely affect the eco-system balance.

“This forest is host to some very valuable plant and animal species which are critically-endangered and these would be destroyed if the forest is degazetted.

“The forest also acts as a carbon sink and the degazettement will release some 5.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus contributing towards global warming, ” he said during a gathering at a community hall in Kampung Bukit Cheeding, Banting to oppose the state’s plan to degazette the forest reserve..

On Feb 5, a notice was placed in a major daily by the state Forestry Department, inviting stakeholders in the Kuala Langat district to give their feedback on the proposed degazettement within 30 days.

Treat Every Environment Special director Leela Panikkar questioned why only Kuala Langat residents were allowed to give input on the matter.

“The impact of the degazettement will be felt by all Selangor residents and not just Kuala Langat folk. The state should not limit the feedback to only residents in the district but instead open it up to everyone who wants to have a say, ” she said, adding that the forest boundary involved adjacent districts such as Sepang and Klang.

Dismissing the Mentri Besar’s claim that 40% of the forest was no longer virgin, Panikkar said the Orang Asli had worked tirelessly to replant the trees which were burnt over the past five years.

“Those replanted trees are now about 18m tall and the area has largely recovered. The state cannot turn a blind eye towards the remaining 60% of original forest, ” she said.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia legal advisor Theiva Lingam reminded the state to comply with the Public Inquiry (Selangor) Rules 2014 and the National Forestry Act (Adoption) Enactment 1985.

“The enactment clearly states that any interested parties could give their objections. This means that the state cannot limit objections to Kuala Langat residents only.

“The state should also extend

the inquiry for another month in order to give the public enough time to research the issue before submitting their feedback, ” said Theiva.

She also reminded the state to respect the customary land of the local Orang Asli and to learn from the landmark case Sagong Tasi in early 2000, when the High Court ruled in favour of the Orang Asli against the state.

Malaysian Nature Society president Prof Dr Ahmad Ismail said the forest reserve had potential as an eco-tourism spot, while also being a treasure trove of information for research.

“We should learn a lesson from our neighbouring city Kuala Lumpur which now grapples with the problem of elevated temperature and lack of trees to absorb excess carbon, ” he said.

Also present were Persatuan Aktivis Sahabat Alam representative Mohammad Azim Mohd Saleh and the Tok Batin of the four Orang Asli villages in the area namely Pulau Kempas, Busut Baru, Bukit Cheeding and Bukit Kemandul.

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