CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Farmers affected by the demolition operation at Kuala Terla want to meet the Pahang state government for a win-win solution after they were served an eviction notice.
However, Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail said it was firm in its decision because of environmental concerns.
About 50 of the farmers, with their kin and workers, gathered yesterday near the intake point for the Kuala Terla water treatment plant to urge Wan Rosdy to postpone the eviction and meet them.
A spokesman for the group, R. Subramaniam, 64, said the farmers, who have been toiling on the land for between 30 and 50 years received the notice dated March 11 on March 14 to vacate their farms within 30 days.
“It’s just too short a notice for us to act. There were no prior warnings or letters asking to meet us over the matter.
“How are we to survive if we leave? Most of us are illiterate and have been working at the farms most of our lives,” he said.
Since Feb 25, the state government has been carrying out an operation to demolish illegal farms over 121ha here.
Cameron Highlands Indian Farmers’ Association chairman P. Viswanathan said the farmers had taken loans from banks to invest in their farms.
“They will not be able to repay the loans if they are evicted and their farms destroyed.
“We really hope the mentri besar will review his decision.
“If the farmers have done anything wrong, they will apologise for it and are willing to adopt the proper guidelines and methods to farm,” he added.
Viswanathan said the state could install a pipe upstream at the mouth of Sungai Ichat and have it channelled down to the intake point of the Sungai Terla water treatment plant to resolve the issue with water supply.
“If the state says it doesn’t have the budget for it the farmers are willing to chip in, though not entirely.
“If only the state would sit down and talk to us,” he said.
In Kuantan, Wan Rosdy said the state government must be firm in protecting the environment from further pollution and ensure there is continued treated water supply for the needs of 70% of Cameron Highlands residents.
Countering the farmers’ assertion that the water source only comes from Sungai Terla, Wan Rosdy said while Terla and Ichat may be two different rivers, they are still within the Terla water catchment area.
“Both rivers should contribute to the intake point for the Kuala Terla water treatment plant but due to Sungai Ichat being badly polluted and aggravated by the illegal farming at its buffer zone, the only source now is from Sungai Terla,” he said.
Wan Rosdy revealed that only 50 temporary occupation licences (TOLs) had been issued but there are more than one operator working on any lot for each of the TOL.
“The perception is that they were given TOL for 45 consecutive years before it was suddenly halted in 2017. But the truth is, the TOL is only valid for a year and must be renewed annually.
“Only in 2017, the TOLs were no longer issued due to a breach of conditions, among which was the prohibition on building permanent structures like workers’ housing.
“Furthermore, these farms are located at a water catchment area which may impact the supply of clean water,” he said.
Wan Rosdy said the state government would hand over issues concerning agricultural land to the State Secretary Incorporated.
Through that, he said, the Agriculture Department would be given the responsibility to ensure effective and safe farming practices in accordance with MyGAP (Malaysia Good Agriculture Practice) were adhered to by farmers in the highlands.