Act tough to curb illegal clearing

Fiepic of Bukit Relau, infamously known as ‘Botak Hill’, showing a bald patch as seen from the Penang Bridge.

In the past month, the media has highlighted a string of land-clearing activities – the latest being at a hillslope near the Teluk Bahang dam.

Massive clearing along the Penang Hill range reported by The Star two weeks ago was followed by a statement from the state government that a Penang Hill Land Working Committee had been set up.

Still fresh in the public mind is Botak Hill where almost 30ha in Bukit Relau were cleared in 2013 without approval.

But it seems little has been done to stop these occurrences. All the authorities have come up with are platitudes of “looking into”, “monitoring the situation” and “setting up a task force”.

These same clichés were spouted more than three decades ago when Penang experienced its first recession in the early 80s when several MNCs ceased operations and laid off workers.

In the end, people accepted the fact that there was no lifetime security with MNCs and retrenchments will happen.

The recession may have been out of the government’s hands but blatant acts of deforestation should not be, especially when it involves the popular tourist spot of Penang Hill.

NGOs are at loggerheads with the state government on hill development over facts and figures.

The public want to know what concrete steps have been taken to curb illegal clearing, including meting out the maximum punishment for such brazen acts.

It is also time for the state government to engage the people in its development plans because it is meaningless to say that development is for the people when their views are not taken.

Recently, I was at a social impact survey session concerning the proposed Gurney Drive-Bayan Lepas highway in Jalan Bagan Jermal. It was clear the area’s residents were unhappy because the survey did not give them a chance to specify their concerns.

The people who gathered at the St Nicholas Home for the Blind for the survey made it clear that they were not against the highway but needed more information about the project.

It’s meaningless to engage the people for the sake of doing it. Instead, use the opportunity to gather valuable feedback from them.

The state government should look into long-term solutions to bring about holistic development rather than piecemeal approaches to tackling issues. - The Star

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