By Jerry Francis
The recent encroachment of state land on the slope of Kledang Hill in Ipoh is apparently to “test” the efficiency of the Pakatan Harapan’s administration.
Well, this is what I assumed from the statement of the Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu on the illegal clearing of the forest.
Datuk Seri Ahmad was quoted to have said that the previous government’s lack of enforcement was the reason why some individuals had bravely encroached into the state land.
But what it had to do with the present state government? Unless those involved were taking the chance to see how the administration would react.
Therefore, if this is indeed a test, then the State Forestry Department, State Land and Mines Department and its Land Office have failed the efficiency test.
It must have taken days to undertake such a massive land clearing operation, which involved heavy machinery and several lorries.
Yet these departments did not seem to notice the big scar that resulted from the removal of the lusty greens on the slope of the hill, which can be seen from the State Secretariat about three kilometres away and beyond.
Had they noticed and made a quick check, the “illegal” activities could have been stopped before it could cause such extensive damage to the hill.
However, It was not until several nearby residents, together with Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), had raised the alarm that the clearing of the forest could cause some environmental problems.
By then about 10ha of the forest had been cleared and all the heavy machinery and lorries had left the site.
Representatives from the State Forestry Department, State Land and Mines Department and MB’s Inc. then inspected the site and confirmed that it was an illegal clearing. It was for the planting of oil palm.
The MB’s Inc. chief executive officer Anuar Zainal Abidin claimed that a piece of its land was also affected. The land is for the purpose of mixed property development (projek hartanah bercampur) to offer settlements for the people.
Datuk Saarani Mohamad, Perak UMNO liaison committee chief, questioned what had happened to the monitoring and enforcement as touted by the state government.
“It is amusing that a vanishing forest, located in the middle of the city, could escape the eyes of the elected representatives of the area,” he said.
The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) had also lodged a police report calling for an investigation into the clearing of the land.
A stop work order had been issued and those involved in the clearing were told to start restoring the damages done to the affected area.
How much clout the directive has to ensure that the restoration is effectively carried out is yet to be seen.
However, what is puzzling me is the allegation that land settlers in the area were the encroachers.
I could accept it if the clearing involved were small patches of land to grow cash crops. But, I could not imagine the settlers have the resources to indulge in a massive land clearing project, which is not only costly but to wait for years to get the returns from harvesting the oil palm.
Unless they are being used as pawns by a syndicate or some financial backers.
This is not the first time the hillslope along the Ipoh-Lumut Highway had been encroached. There had been others in the past.
The state government needs to strictly monitor the development of the hillslope. Otherwise, it could cause mudflows onto the highway and housing estates along the foot of the hill.
Meanwhile, an online petition calling on the state government to save Kledang Hill is gaining momentum.