KUALA LUMPUR: The National Forestry Act has been beefed up with the increase in penalties for offences committed in forest reserves.
Apart from increases in penalties, the amendments to the Act which was passed in Dewan Rakyat on Monday (July 18), also include new provisions requiring state governments to conduct public inquiry before taking any area out of permanent forest reserves including replacing it.
"Section 11 and Section 12 are totally new provisions where the state is required to hold a public inquiry before removal of any area out of the forest reserve.
"Under Section 12, the state authorities must also replace the land taken out of the forest reserve by an equal or larger sized land area," said Energy and Natural Resources Minister Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan when tabling the Bill for its second reading.
He said those convicted of offences involving primary forest produce more than five square metres, could face jail sentences of between five and 20 years and fines of between RM100,000 and RM5mil.
Among the increases in penalties include a minimum jail sentence of between five and 20 years and fines of up to RM1mil for those convicted for illegal logging.
Those defacing trees or altering forest boundaries for illegal logging purposes could also face a jail term of not less than five years to a maximum of 20 years, including a RM1mil fine.
Those guilty of starting fires in forest reserves would feel the heat as well.
Offenders under Section 82, those who start fires or leave fires burning within a permanent reserve forest in such a manner as to endanger the area, may face a maximum RM100,000 fine and seven years’ jail.
Fines have also been increased for those caught littering in forest reserves.
During debates, Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim (BN-Baling) suggested that the Federal government should be given the power to intervene with regard to conversion of permanent forest reserves, mining and use of land for other activities.
He said that State governments should not be given absolute powers to issue approvals and that the Federal government must have a say in such matters.
He cited the recent incident where planters were given approvals to grow Musang King at Gunung Inas in Baling.
He said that he had warned of the dangers eight months ago of the man-made retention ponds on top of Gunung Inas which was used by the Musang King plantation.
"I have said that it is a ticking time bomb.
"There are still some ponds as big as a football field," he said while sharing photos of the retention ponds which he claimed lacked proper piling.
In response, Takiyuddin noted that the Federal Constitution is clear that the management of forests came solely under the power of the respective State governments.
However, he noted that State governments were morally bound to adhere to decisions made by the National Land Council with regard to land matters.
"The council is chaired by the Prime Minister and the Mentris Besar and Chief Ministers are also part of the decision making process," he added.
He cited an example where State governments were bound by the council's decision on the number of trees which could be felled annually in their respective states.
The Bill was passed by a majority voice vote.
On a separate matter, Takiyuddin said the council had approved the development of forest plantations with forest reserves totalling 439,189 ha in 2012, of which 213,522 ha were used for the purpose.
However, he said that the council decided on Dec 2 last year to impose a 15 year moratorium on the setting up of forest plantations in forest reserves.