By Mariam Mokhtar
If there is a will, there is a way; but it appears that there is no political will to transform limestone hills, from quarrying sites, into a site with activities for tourists or scientific research.
For many decades, speleologists and environmentalists have urged the state government to protect the hills in and around the Kinta Valley. These caverns are rich in cave drawings, crystal formations and rare plants. The beauty of the hills is also a draw for visitors but to date, the state tourism committee chairman, Tan Kar Hing, will not commit to protecting the hills. Why?
Although Tan agreed that Gunung Lanno in Simpang Pulai had scientific, ecological and heritage values, he was hesitant about efforts to preserve and protect them.
Despite telling StarMetro that the preservation of the hills was possible, he wondered if the move could be workable.
He blamed the previous administration for granting permits to private companies to operate in an area, which he said, had been gazetted for quarry activities and that the area had around 30 quarry sites.
Tan also claimed that the government would face financial and legal challenges.
So, is that it? How many other historically and scientifically significant sites, have been destroyed by commercial activities? The previous UMNO-Baru/BN may have been motivated by greed, but surely Tan and the PH administration can improve their performance.
He proposed that the formation of a task force, which would look into the matter and he hoped that a win-win situation would emerge. He has already engaged the services of the State Park Corporation and the state Minerals and Geoscience Department to evaluate the findings and make suitable recommendations.
As the hills have been gazetted as an area for quarry and mining, activities, tourists do not visit the area.
So, does that mean Tan will de-gazette the area from a site for quarrying activities to one for tourism if a company was to make a serious bid to promote tourism in the hills?
In October 2018, the Perak Sultan formally declared that the Kinta Valley was a national geopark. The geopark covers an area of 1952 sq km, in both the Kinta and Kampar districts and is Malaysia’s second national geopark; after Langkawi’s UNESCO Global Geopark.
The Kinta geopark is in an area of outstanding natural beauty with a rich history of mining and geology. It encompasses 18 geo-sites, including Gunung Lang, Tambun Cave, Naga Mas Cave, Tempurung Cave, Gunung Korbu, Jeram River, Hutan Lipur Ulu Kinta and the waterfalls at Sungai Salu. With its unique attractions, the Kinta geopark has the potential to attract both local and foreign tourists.
Newspaper reports indicate that the Kinta Valley geopark was first mooted in August 2014, and was subsequently approved by the state government. Three years later, the National Geopark Evaluating Commission, approved the Kinta Valley geopark project, after studying the area.
If that were the case, how on earth did the previous UMNO-Baru/BN administration grant permits to blast Gunung Lanno, in a location which already has 30 quarrying sites? This is a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is up to.
So, what does Tan need to do to convince the state to revoke the quarrying licences which are granted at Gunung Lanno? Has he engaged the state historians, and archaeologists to highlight to the general public, the heritage status of Gunung Lanno?
Around the world, limestone hills are preserved for the enjoyment of all. They are not blasted for use in the construction industry, so why does Perak lack the political will to promote the hills?
Shouldn’t more in-depth studies be carried out, to ascertain further details about the various cave paintings, fossils and other geological features?
Tan appears to be dragging his feet in protecting the hills. So, has Putrajaya any influence over the preservation of Gunung Lanno? Will Putrajaya be able to overturn the ruling, or are they also tied in a time warp, of political greed?