SHOCKING DESTRUCTION: Kedah government appears oblivious to threats posed by rampant land clearing
ALOR STAR: THE Kedah government has been urged to explain rampant logging activity at two high-value forests in the state.
The felling of trees is apparently going on unchecked, leaving an area in the Bukit Bintang forest in Gunung Inas, Baling, and another hilltop barely 500m from the Pedu Dam in Kuala Nerang, completely scarred.
The deforestation is setting off alarm bells as Pedu Lake is an important water catchment area, which could end up being badly polluted as a result of the rampant logging activity there.
Upon receiving reports of what was going on, several state Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders yesterday went on a helicopter ride to see the destruction.
State Umno liason committee deputy chairman Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir said both areas were "under siege" and expressed shock about the amount of damage that had been inflicted.
Mukhriz said the state government had to explain whether the land was being cleared legally, considering that the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry had ordered felling activities to cease after the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the project was rejected by the Department of Environment.
"The land clearing, especially at Gunung Inas, is really shocking.
"I know the EIA was rejected but from my observation, I don't think the state government has adhered to the directive to stop the land clearing," he said.
Mukhriz, who is also Jerlun member of parliament, earlier went on a two-hour helicopter ride to conduct an aerial observation of the cleared hilltops.
He was joined by Pedu assemblyman Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid and Belantek assemblyman Datuk Tajuddin Abdullah.
Mukhriz said he was also baffled by the felling activities taking place near the Pedu Dam.
"The forest is located very close to the Pedu Dam, which is an important and vital water catchment area in Kedah.
"I fear that all the logging would hurt water supply to the state. I shudder to think what would happen if the water catchment area is affected by these activities.
Mukhriz noted that water from the dam was not only supplied to households, but was also crucial for padi-planting activities in the state.
He said land clearing at the two locations could trigger mudslides, which would pose a danger to residents living near the area.
It has been learnt that the land clearing activities at the two locations are intended to make way for the Ladang Rakyat (People's Estate) rubber plantation programme, initiated by the state government.
Under the programme, the forest will be cleared and replaced with rubber trees.
Previously, it had been reported that the state government was adamant and was going ahead with the programme despite protests by villagers living near Gunung Inas.
Mukhriz also clarified claims by the opposition that the Ladang Rakyat initiative was proposed when BN was in power.
"There was a proposal to carry out the project. However, it was rejected as the previous state government feared of its impact on the environment and the people.
"Unlike the opposition, when Barisan Nasional was the state government of the day, it never dared to carry out any felling activities near the Pedu Dam."
Tajudin said 13,325ha of land had been so far cleared by the state government.
"The state government is hiding behind the plantation scheme to conduct its illegal logging activities. The land it is clearing goes all the way to the peak of Gunung Inas.
"My question is, how is it going to start a plantation at the hilltop?"
He said similar deforestation activities had been conducted in Kelikir, near Sik, on the pretext of establishing catfish farming in the area.
The catfish farming project was a failure, Tajudin added, but the deforestation never stopped.
On yesterday's helicopter ride, he said those who went on it saw bulldozers clearing some areas in Pedu and Gunung Inas.