PETALING JAYA: Is it possible to gazette a plantation area as a forest reserve?
This question has been playing on the minds of villagers in Padang Terap, Kedah, after six men entered the area recently to put stones as boundary markers and claiming the 1,775ha plot of land in Tekai would be gazetted as the Bukit Kemunting forest reserve.
For four generations, scores of villagers living around the plot in question had been planting rubber, oil palm trees and food crops to eke out a living.
Second generation settler E Bau A Chye, 82, said the villagers had been working on the land long before Malaysia gained independence.
"After the Japanese occupation, the authorities were worried of the communist insurgency. During that period, the authorities had allowed the villagers to work on the land during the day (during the emergency period) to discourage the insurgents from using the area as their hideout," said E Bau.
Kampung Padang Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia branch chief Sumali Oh Ah Paa said more than 500 households in the surrounding area would be affected if the Forestry Department went ahead with its alleged plan to gazette the area as "forest reserve".
"But where on earth is an area full of rubber trees, oil palm trees, and food crops gazetted as forest reserve?
"We sensed something amiss after the six men entered our villages on Monday to place boundary stones. They did not even seek permission from village chiefs before entering the villages.
"They claim to represent a contractor allegedly appointed by the state Forestry Department to carry out demarcation works for the purpose of gazetting the area as a forest reserve," she said.
Sumali said a contract worker claimed that they had received instructions from a forest management officer to carry out the demarcation exercise.
However, a check with the Kedah Forestry Department showed that the position of the deputy director in charge of forest management and planning was vacant.
Sumali said there is an almost equal number of Malay and Siamese households in the area.
"Many people living here are poor. Some of them do not even have a telephone. We are all having sleepless nights, as we fear losing this arable land that has been the source of our income for four generations," said Sumali.
Sumali and fellow villager Chatree Ai Peng lodged police reports at the Naka police station on Tuesday (Aug 27).
Chatree had sent letters to the offices of the Kedah Mentri Besar and Padang Terap District Officer on Oct 13 last year after learning from the land office that applications for title deeds could not be processed because the area had been earmarked as forest reserve.
"But there were no boundary markers then. They recently they came in to put the boundary markers after we argued that there were no boundary markers," said Sumali.
Sumali added that she also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to appeal for help.
Meanwhile, Padang Terap District Officer Fathullah Suhaimi said he had asked the senior assistant district officer in charge of land matters to look into the matter.
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