Editorial: Fate of Kledang Hill

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The Kledang Range, an offshoot of the Main Range has, since time immemorial, been a source of inspiration to the inhabitants of Kinta Valley. The reason could either be the undulating hills or the greenery or perhaps, the combination of both. No matter what, the Kledang Range will remain an integral part of Ipoh – love or loathe it.

The highest point is none other than the awesome Gunung Kledang standing at a respectful height of 2651ft (808m) above the valley floor. And, as is audaciously claimed, it is the 245th highest mountain in the country. It is accessible via the town of Menglembu. It is a much sought-after trail cum hiking site for health buffs, the country over. You can either walk or cycle up the slope to a point where you can feast your eyes upon the valley below. A tarred single-passage road winds up the hill ending at the telecommunications towers which mark the summit of Kledang. The towers are visible from the city.

The Kledang Range stands like a sentinel keeping watch over Ipoh, a once unplanned and haphazard tin-mining town that has blossomed into a gleaming metropolis it is today. The fate of this imposing yet fragile landscape rests squarely on the shoulders of the inhabitants of the city better known for its hawker food, coffee and pomelos. But at the rate things are going this may soon be a thing of the past unless those in the corridors of power wake up.

Events unfolding the last few weeks have unwittingly placed the hill range and Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu (Peja) on a collision course. Was it destined to end this way? A discourse on the subject matter is desirous considering Kledang Range’s significance and relevance to the well-being of Ipohites. Meaning, you and I.

The controversy centres on the Kledang Saiong Forest Reserve, Menteri Besar Incorporated (MB Inc), illegal loggers/planters and Peja himself. It is no secret that the once pristine forest covering the Kledang Range is being eyed by many out to make a quick ringgit. They are just waiting for the right moment to strike. All they need is a momentary lapse of concentration and they will move in with their heavy machineries to stake a claim. Lands in the state are becoming scarce due to over development so lands up in the clouds become the obvious choice.

Residents of Pusing, Menglembu, Jelapang and faraway Sitiawan have alerted Ipoh Echo about illegal activities taking place in and around the Kledang Range. Their favourite hiking site is being stripped of trees and logs are being extracted for commercial use. Those responsible, some alleged, have connections with the high and mighty. They are powerless to act other than to sound the alarm hopefully it would be heard.

And when confronted with evidence, during a Chinese New Year gathering in Sitiawan recently, that a hefty portion of Gunung Kledang has been illegally cleared, Faisal pleaded for time to shift through papers and agreements for the truth.

A stop-work order was eventually issued by the Land Office on Friday, February 8. By then nearly 10 hectares of forest land have been stripped bare. The cleared land has been terraced to prepare for oil palm cultivation.

Oil palm saplings have been planted in areas. That shows how determined these claimants are. They care less for the environment or the well-being of residents living at the foothills. And what I find most disturbing is Faisal’s insistence that a designated area of the forest reserve has been de-gazetted since November last year for a mixed housing project to be undertaken by MB Inc.

It does not make sense that a housing project, sanctioned by the state government, will soon appear on Gunung Kledang slopes. We have seen what happened in Penang when hills, ridges and escarpments are being denuded for development purposes. Silting and landslides have resulted in the loss of lives and the degradation of the environment. If this is what the MB wants, the future certainly looks bleak for Ipohites. You say one thing but do the other.

The question of pleasing some dubious businessmen is not how things are done in the much-touted Malaysia Baru. The rakyat voted in Pakatan Harapan during the 14th General Elections in the hope that they will do the right thing; not become an appendage of the corrupt and decadent Barisan Nasional.

The least Faizal should do is to honour his party pledge of ensuring transparency, however difficult it may be. One cardinal rule a sitting government should abide by is to leave business to the professionals. MB Incorporated should be disbanded. Period.

This just got in: DAP Perak, led by MP Thomas Su, has filed a report with the state anti-corruption agency regarding the Gunong Kledang scandal. An element of fraud has happened and the graft busters are being called to investigate.

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