By Mariam Mokhtar
Might the Perak state government’s controversial cable-car project linking Taiping to Bukit Larut, go the same way as the Penang botanical gardens project dubbed ‘the fallen arches’? Both these projects were opposed by the residents of Taiping, and NGOs, because they would destroy and violate the serenity of its natural environment and pristine beauty.
This cable-car project may be another white elephant, but it would certainly cause irreversible damage to Taiping’s water catchment area. Many are unhappy that the authorities had to lie low when the protests were a
What happens if the project fails to attract the so-called development? What happens if the rich bio-diversity is lost forever? What happens if the water catchment area suffers irreversible damage? What will happen to the residents if they were never consulted about any developmental proposals in their area?
Oldest Hill Resort
Bukit Larut or Maxwell Hill is the country’s oldest hill-resort. The water catchment area provides water to over 500,000 households. Besides, the Matang Mangrove Forest reserve requires water from Bukit Larut, as do local industries.
The first attempt to develop Bukit Larut involved the construction of a multi-story hotel on the hill and another in Taiping’s Lake Gardens. This was during Menteri Besar Ramli Ngah Talib’s tenure and it needed the intervention of the Sultan to halt the development.
The second was when Pakatan’s Nga Kor Ming encouraged the RM60m cable-car project because people could reach the peak in 11 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes by Land-Rover. He mentioned a horrific 1,000 visitors per hour if the cable-car was operated at maximum capacity.
In the third and latest revival of the project, the Menteri Besar’s comments caused consternation. He said, “An Environmental Impact Assessment report is not required as the project does not involve major development – no trees would be felled or clearing of land”.
The MB mirrored Nga Kor Ming’s proposal that the project would not damage the eco-system, as there would be minimal hill-cutting with helicopters being used during construction.
However a quick telephone survey suggests intense disagreement and disapproval of the cable-car project.
Environmentalists and concerned citizens quickly pointed out that such assurances were only window-dressing. One retired plantation manager said, “Once the project starts, there is little chance of stopping it. The government will have to pay compensation to the company involved. Helicopters will surely drive away the small animals that live there.”
MB’s Statement Challenged
Many expressed their disappointment with the Menteri Besar saying no Environmental Impact Assessment was needed because, “the project did not involve major development”.
A Taiping student now studying in Singapore said, “He is neither an environmentalist nor a conservationist. He is not qualified to make such statements.”
One-hundred-and-twenty-one years ago, Isabella Bird, a Victorian, went on an expedition to Malaya, and stopped off at the home of Perak’s Assistant Resident, W.E. Maxwell, in Taiping. She described the beautiful Perak countryside and hills around Taiping in her book, ‘The Golden Chersonese’. She described the ‘bracing air’, ‘the cool nights’ and talked of her fascination with the flora and fauna of the hills.
Today, conservationists have discovered that Bukit Larut is home to small animals such as the rhinoceros hornbill, large moths, butterflies, birds, beetles, monkeys and Pope’s Pit Viper.
With a cable-car, the constant stream of day-trippers will have dire consequences on the fragile ecosystem of Bukit Larut.
At present, the limit on people, because of transportation, becomes a good protective mechanism. Thus, another ‘Pulau Redang situation’ is averted – when huge visitor numbers destroyed the island’s coral reefs.
Foresight and Vision needed
The development and conservation of Bukit Larut requires foresight and vision. Our other hill stations have lost their charm and have become too commercialised, polluted, congested, warmer (in temperature) and they suffer massive litter problems.
Once Bukit Larut is ‘modernised’, with food outlets and other amenities for our instant entertainment and gratification, the destruction will accelerate.
Politicians should not sacrifice our natural treasures in the name of progress and development. What will we leave our children, if there was nothing to appreciate and continue to protect, on behalf of future generations?