Surprised by near-completion tunnel in Gombak Forest Reserve

A tunnel within the Selangor/Gombak forest reserve area nears completion for the East Coast Rail Link project. Photograph by Weekly Echo.

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 12 – A ride through the Jalan Gombak-Karak road that cuts through the Selangor/Gombak state forest reserve, for an environmentalist to confirm the claims of tree clearings in the area, took a surprising turn as he chanced upon a tunnel instead, nearing completion, being constructed by the main contractor/partner of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project, China Communications Construction (ECRL) Sdn Bhd.

Speaking to Weekly Echo, which joined the team on an invitation, Green Party pro-tem secretary general Abdul Razak said, while he was quite happy that the forest clearings had been less than he had expected as an underground tunnel was being built in the area, he was nevertheless perturbed by the covert way in which works had begun on this section of the ECRL.

While it remains fuzzy about how this construction had started without any proper announcement, there have been several statements in the media following a disclosure by research body, Rimba on the finding of forest clearings in the area.

Menteri Besar of Selangor Amirudin Shari had said that the works had started without approval of an Environmental Impact Assessment Report, but added that the Forest Department had given a right-of-way permit to enter to begin work in the state forest while Selangor State Executive Council member Lee Hoy Sian said the EIA had been submitted and approved in November 2021.

In any case, there had been no mention of a tunnel at all up till now, Razak said.

“By the look of it, work on the tunnel could not have been that recent also.

“I am not sure if this tunnel is part of the many tunnels under the ECRL or is this a new additional one. However, there definitely needs to be more transparency with the construction of the ECRL so that better monitoring can be done to ensure that all compliances in terms of environmental impact is adhered to.

“For now, there are some clear damages in the area, with future possible consequences to the Orang Asli village nearby as well as to the existing road above. If fallen trees and debris are left around, the stream below can get polluted, cause floods and so on. While it cannot be ascertained whether the ECRL works could have contributed to recent floods in the nearby downstream areas, this cannot be discounted,” he added.

Trees have an important role in natural flood mitigation, and their significance must never be underestimated, Razak said, adding that while compensation may be paid out for the loss of trees in the areas to relevant parties, the price paid for the damage may be far much higher, not only in monetary terms but in tree cover loss, carbon emission, and unknown natural reactions.

To a question on whether he was against development, Razak said he was not but added that sustainable development cannot be just some words but must be genuinely practised so that the future generation does not suffer the consequences of our actions.

“We do have developments that have gone ahead despite caution from an EIA report. Some works have been carried out before the EIA reports. Some works have been also awarded without any transparency. All these also point towards corruption in the area of distribution of tenders among cronies and so on with very real attention paid to the environmental damages ahead.”

In a statement earlier this week, Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd said the land clearing for ECRL project in Selangor did not involve any de-gazettement of forest reserves. However, environmentalists have been arguing that Selangor had a moratorium on forest clearing and this ruling had been breached through the project.

— WE