Johor Environment Department (DOE) will no longer issue RM2,000 compounds under Section 29A of the Environmental Quality Act 1974 for open burning offences this year.
Instead, all offences would be investigated further and those guilty could face a jail term of up to five years or a maximum fine of RM500,000, or both, upon conviction under the same Act, said Johor DOE director Mohd Famey Yusoff.
He said the Environment and Water Ministry had also activated the National Open Burning Action Plan this year to curb open burning activities nationwide.
“Through the plan, we have conducted awareness programmes via mainstream media, the social media and on-ground awareness campaigns to stop open burning in the state.
“But it seems that our efforts have fallen on deaf ears, as open burning has been occurring in a few districts, namely Kota Tinggi, Pontian, Muar and Gelang Patah in Iskandar Puteri, ” he told StarMetro in an interview at his office in Johor Baru.
Mohd Famey said the awareness campaign, dubbed “Operation To Prevent Open Burning”, was carried out by state DOE personnel who went to every village in the state to ensure that villagers complied with the Environmental Act.
“There has been an increase in open burning cases reported in the state in the past few weeks and DOE has recorded a total of 167 open burning cases in January and February this year.
“This year, we will open an investigation paper on all open burning offences and the landowner will be required to go to court to help with the investigation and resolve the issues, ” he said, adding that the majority of the open burning cases occurred on peat soil.
Mohd Famey noted that under the National Open Burning Action Plan, all local councils were also required to double their efforts in monitoring the environment and implement stringent enforcement.
“We have also asked the Mineral and Geoscience Depart-ment as well as the Drainage and Irrigation Department to place more tube wells and check dams in peat soil areas, so that when a fire occurs, the Fire and Rescue Department will have enough water for their firefighting work, ” he explained.
When asked to comment on the Feb 27 peat fire in Kampung Pekajang, near SMK Tanjung Adang, Mohd Famey said he was disappointed with the villagers in the area, as they had experienced the devastating effects of peat fire in August 2019.
“The 2019 fire was one of the worst incidents to ever hit the state.
“But there are those who are still stubborn and conduct open burning, despite experiencing unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings, seeing schools being shut down and people being admitted to hospitals for having trouble breathing, ” he said.
He added that DOE investigations had revealed that the same thing occurred at the recent peat fire in Parit Juno, Muar as well as at Mardi Station and Kampung Parit Yassin in Pontian.
It was reported earlier that DOE director-general Norlin Jaafar had on March 3 issued an open burning ban in Selangor, Pahang and Johor with immediate effect.
She said the ban was implemented under Section 29AA (2) of the Environmental Quality (Amendment) Act 2001.
She added that it meant no one was allowed to carry out open burning or allow their land or premises to be entered or trespassed by irresponsible people leading to open burning, either intentionally or unintentionally.