BUKIT MERTAJAM: With all 31 pits of the former illegal carbon factory in Kampung Sungai Lembu in ruins and covered in overgrowth, it is now fresh air and clear skies for the villagers.
This village was the centre of attention in 2017 when it was found that an illegal carbon factory had been spewing smoke throughout the day for more than 10 years.
It used to burn sawdust to create activated carbon, and until it was discovered, the villagers suffered in silence.
A recent check showed that the villagers were once again happy after the factory was fully shut down.
“We sleep better now. Farmers are also able to work without wearing masks anymore,” said Village Development and Security Committee chairman Tan Sing Lee, while showing durians just harvested from a nearby orchard.
Since the factory’s closure, the livelihood of villagers has improved.
Tan said he did not know of any plans for the former factory, which is privately owned.
The roofing above the former burning pits has been removed to allow rain to pour in, while small piles of sawdust can be seen in the corner of another wing of the factory.
A group of villagers having drinks at a nearby coffee shop also expressed happiness.
“No more smoking. No more from cigarettes. No more smoke from the factory,” said one of them in jest.
Penanti assemblyman Dr Norlela Ariffin said with the closure, the village could move on and continue to develop.
“We are applying to repair the existing village playground and include a jogging track with solar lighting.
“Tecoma trees will also be planted around the village to spruce it up,” she said.
In August 2017, authorities including the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), Seberang Prai Municipal Council (MPSP) and Department Of Environment sprung into action after the factory was found operating on agricultural land inside an oil palm estate for more than 10 years.
Besides raiding the factory and arresting the workers, MACC also detained Penang Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh, the factory manager and his son to assist in investigations.
The three walked free after the court set aside their remand orders.
Other officials such as former Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng, Norlela and MPSP’s former president Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif were also called by MACC to have their statements recorded.
Norlela had been actively raising concerns from villagers against the factory in the state assembly and on Facebook since 2015 before action was taken.