KUALA LUMPUR: The government is looking at amending the law to charge anyone caught trespassing any permanent forest reserves, says Dr Xavier Jayakumar.
"We will be bringing in an amendment to Parliament to charge anyone who is caught (in permanent forest reserves) without permission and has no business there.
"The law will be more severe on those caught loitering in forest without permission of agencies involved," said the Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister.
He said amendments to the National Forestry Act 1984 will likely be brought to the Parliament in March, adding that committees in charge within the ministry are in the midst of submitting the draft to the Attorney General's Chambers.
"We are looking at increasing the penalty and also custodial sentence (on those caught trespassing permanent forest reserves)," said Dr Jayakumar.
He was speaking to the media after the launch of the "Hutan Kita - Journey through the Rainforest", an exhibition on rainforests at Kuala Lumpur Tower here on Friday (Aug 23).
The exhibition was officiated by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Dr Jayakumar also said that although land is under state authorities, the ministry is looking at enforcing the standard operating procedures (SOP) which will be further tightened on degazetting of forests.
"We have prepared the SOP in the degazetting of land in the states. This SOP is not binding, because land comes under the state's prerogative. This SOP will be published by us (the ministry). Any land degazetted or use for deforestation or plantation must follow this SOP.
"This SOP is being fine-tuned right now. We will not wait for replies from states (when degazetting takes place).
"If states don't follow SOP, we have no power to take action against the states, but the people will be informed of the SOP and the people can take necessary action against the states," said Dr Jayakumar.
He also said that the Orang Asli would be continuously engaged to safeguard forests as they are the "eyes and ears in the forest against poachers and those stealing our treasure".
"We have been engaging Orang Asli to help us with not only caring for the forest, but to be our eyes and ears in the forest against poachers and those stealing our treasure, especially important species of wood like agar wood.
"They have been reporting back to us if they see anyone not supposed to be there," said Dr Jayakumar.
He said formal recognition of Orang Asli as guardians of the forest is already part and parcel of the government agenda.