Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari has defended the state’s proposal to degazette the Kuala Langat (North) Forest Reserve, contending that developing it is a good idea seeing that 40 percent of the forest had already “degraded”.
In a media briefing yesterday, he took pains to explain the government’s reasons behind its plan to degazette 930.93ha (97.1 percent) of the 958ha forest reserve for a mixed development project.
Amirudin said the quality of trees in the Kuala Langat forest reserve - a peat forest - had eroded due to fire and posed a continual fire hazard to surrounding areas.
“Forty percent of the area has become hutan rosot (degraded forests) due to fires and damage, and the area no longer has elements of the virgin forest it used to be.
“Therefore we want to change this area to make it more appropriate with its surrounding areas.
“In front of it, we will have a Selangor Business Capital development by the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS). The development next to it (Gamuda Cove) is owned by Gamuda.
“This (proposal) is also to prevent forest fires, a problem that threatened the ecosystem here a while ago,” he said at the Selangor State Secretary’s Building in Shah Alam.
Amirudin added that degazetting the forest reserve would benefit the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project as the train track runs through the protected area.
“I feel that this degazettement is also being done to give way to the ECRL, which I calculate will stimulate new economies and galvanise new industries on the east coast (of Peninsula Malaysia) as well as Selangor,” he said.
Parallel replacement of bigger reserves
The menteri besar repeatedly stressed that the degazettement plan had not been finalised and remained a proposal.
Of the 10 steps the government needed to go through before it could degazette a forest reserve, it was presently at step three - collecting feedback to their Feb 5 public notice announcing the degazettement plans.
The public has until March 5 to submit their feedback to the Selangor Forestry Department.
Emphasising that Selangor was the only state that sought public feedback for such land matters, Amirudin said that the government plans to make up for the degazettement by gazetting new areas as forest reserves.
“The state government plans to replace the degazetted forests with a bigger area of forest,” he said.
Compared to the 930.93ha they want to degazette, the combined area of the new reserves will span “at least” 1,092ha.
Calling the process “parallel replacement”, he said the state government was presently choosing from a list of peat forests to gazette as forest reserves.
Options include a 308.62ha plot in Sungai Panjang (Sabak Bernam), a second 606.88ha plot in the same area and a 190.28ha plot in Buloh Telor (Ampang Pecah).
Not only were these peat forests of better quality, Amirudin said that gazetting the Sungai Panjang plot would enable it to be merged with the existing Raja Musa Forest Reserve - enlarging what was already the largest peat forest in the peninsula.
All this would ensure that Selangor continued to have 30 percent or more of its land area designated as forest reserves.
“I don’t want to become a menteri besar that reduces the amount of forests in Selangor, as my promise in the state assembly and as my promise in front of Tuanku (Selangor ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah) during his Majesty’s birthday,” Amirudin said during the question and answer session.
Orang Asli unaffected
Contrary to concern from the Orang Asli, he stressed that no indigenous villages would be affected by the proposed degazettement.
Amirudin explained that the government’s proposal had taken their settlements into account and deliberately applied to degazette areas away from them.
“Their kampung, their forest and their roaming areas will not be disturbed,” he said.
Almost 404.69ha of the forest reserve will remain untouched for this reason, Amirudin said.
“There might be an issue with Temuan Orang Asli graves and we will review this during the public feedback process.
“We will try to not degazette areas where the graves are, but this can only be done at the right time - after the appeals process,” he added.
Premature conclusions, ‘political’ allegations
During the press conference, Amirudin lamented at least seven times about the barrage of criticism against the degazettement plan since it was announced in the newspapers.
Urging the public against arriving at premature conclusions based on “wild and false allegations”, he questioned if those who were voicing their opposition in the media had a political agenda.
“I think the allegations are half baked, some deviate (from facts) and some are untrue.
“We initially wanted to answer only after the (public feedback) process was over but looking at the recent developments, including the politicking by certain parties, I thought it would be better to explain this in detail,” he said.
Amirudin also made special mention of Kuala Langat MP Xavier Jayakumar, who is the minister of water, land and natural resources.
Xavier previously urged the Selangor government to reconsider the degazettement and said he was firmly against the idea.