GEORGE TOWN: Three hillslopes in Sungai Ara, some 5km from the Penang International Airport, are facing rapid deforestation with farmers clearing the slopes for agriculture.
Aerial pictures taken by a drone show two excavators near the top of a hill in Sungai Ara, cutting what appears to be a pathway to the top.
The pictures show patches of hillslope cleared for a banana plantation, among others.
A resident of a condominium in Sungai Ara, Robin Tan, said he used to enjoy a cool breeze in the mornings.
“I bought the unit in 2006. One day, I noticed a small patch of hillslope clearance at the back but it was quite a distance away. It has been growing in size over the years.
“Now, the hillslope looks ugly. Our area is hotter too,” he said.
There are four blocks of 19-storey condominiums there.
Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin said he was shocked to see the pictures which were forwarded to him.
“I want a report from the land office and Penang Island City Council (MBPP) on why no action has been taken against the culprits. The bald patches are getting bigger,” he said.
Sim said the bald patches could trigger a landslide and posed a danger to residents living at the foot of the hill.
“If it rains heavily, there could even be mudflows,” he added.
Sim said he was thankful that the state government had set up a Penang Hill Land working committee to look into hill clearance.
Malaysia Nature Society Penang branch adviser D. Kanda Kumar said he had raised the issue of hill clearance some nine years ago.
“Everyone can see that hill clearance is going on rampantly, yet no action has been taken,” he said, adding that the land office and MBPP should take swift action.
“If the land office has issued temporary occupation licences to farmers, it can specify that the land can only be used to plant durian or rambutan trees. These trees have strong roots and can act as forest cover.
“But if the land is used to plant vegetables, then the forest cover is gone and it can cause soil erosions,” he said.
The Star forwarded the picture of the excavators to MBPP engineering department deputy director A. Rajendran, who said they were taking immediate action.
He said his enforcement personnel rushed to the site and asked the workers to stop immediately.
“We will issue them with a stop-work order tomorrow (today),” he added.
On Saturday, The Star front-paged a report on the clearing of hill land on the slopes of Penang Hill, including near Paya Terubong.
The Penang Hill Land Working Committee issued a statement that 90ha on the Penang Hill range, equivalent to 112 football fields, are estimated to have been illegally deforested or infringed upon.