Activists say they will continue fight to preserve what’s left of Bukit Cherakah forest reserve

From 2000 todate, encroachment into Selangor state’s primary forests has been an ongoing affair. Photo courtesy of Peka.

SHAH ALAM, Sept 10 – The fight to keep what is left of the Bukit Cherakah Forest Reserve will continue, several environmental activists here have said.

The Bukit Cherakah Forest Reserve issue has progressed into one long tussle between the environmental activists and the Selangor state government, specifically the current members of the state executive council, since announcement was made in May this year on the degazetting of 406 hectares of the forest reserve for development including housing.

Environmentalists, who have been calling for a stop to continued development in the ecologically sensitive area, are crying foul, as the status of the disputed area remain questionable and a court stay order has been placed on the area that prevents any activity there.

“However, clearance activities in the area are ongoing, and residents nearby can hear loud noises produced by such activities,” alleged Otai Reformis Secretary Abdul Razak Ismail, who has also accused the state government of following the actions of the previous government by continuing with plans to deforest the area for development purpose.

To begin with, in 2000, during the time Dr Mohd Khir Toyo was the Menteri Besar of Selangor, he had announced plans to degazette some primary forest areas in the state.

Exposed hill areas are potential zones for calamities, says Peka President Damien Thanam. Surrounding low lying areas face the risk of floods and ensuing damages, when hills are left bare without the protection given by trees that act as barriers against such heavy rains, Photo of Bukit Cherakah courtesy of Peka.

A great degree of destruction was reported with the Bukit Cahaya Agro Park area said to be among the affected forest areas in the state. Calls were made to stop the wide deforestation in the state then. While there were pledges of no more development in the area, some 118.7 hectares from the Bukit Cerakah permanent reserve forest was de-gazetted in 2005 with the notice of de-gazettment published in Selangor Gazette. Some 30.4ha was given to Permodalan Negeri Selangor Berhad (PSNB) for mixed development.

Following alerts of no proper approvals for land acquisitions, the development in the area stopped around 2006, and the Pakatan Harapan government came into power in 2008, with environmental protection among its many pledges to the people of Selangor.

In May this year, the Selangor government said it has degazetted the area to continue with the development plans. It will also backdate the degazetting date to that of 2000 as approved by the previous government. Not all assemblymen of the Selangor state are happy with this.

Under Selangor’s National Forestry Act (Adoption) Enactment 1985 on Excision of Land from Permanent Forest Reserve notification, the excision of the 406.22ha is said to have come into force after it was approved by the Selangor State Executive Councillor meeting on Nov 20, 2000.

In early August, two environmental NGOs – the Shah Alam Community Forest Society (SACF) and Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka) – filed an application for judicial review of the Selangor government’s degazettement of the land. A stay order on work in the disputed area was given by the court following the decision on the review.

While both parties are awaiting the court decision, the Menteri Besar of Selangor was also reported saying that the state planned on continuing the development as it would have to compensate the developers given contracts to develop the area.

“Why is the current Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Amiruddin Shari continuing with the plans of Khir Toyo to degazette the area for development. And his claims that Selangor govt would have to pay developers high amount of compensation is not accurate,” said Abdul Razak, adding that four of the companies were RM2 companies while other companies came under the Selangor state government.

“He has also claimed that the companies would sue the state goverrnment but how can that be when they could not have paid land premium and possibly do not have land titles?” he asked.

Meanwhile, Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam (PEKA) Malaysia President, Damien Thanam, has warned of potential damages that await the area.

“The area has already been stripped bare with its hilly areas exposed to possible erosion and landslides that can occur during heavy rains,” Damien told Weekly Echo in an interview.

He also said “another Gunung Inas event can happen considering a water pond close to a highway running by the side of the hill.”

When excessive rain water together with mud from the exposed hill runs into the water catchment area below, the water in the pond can push out the excessive water to the nearby highway and cause flood and the ensuing damages, he said.