People will 'Save Penang Hill, again'

CIVIL societies will launch the “Save Penang Hill 2.0” campaign if the state government goes ahead with the proposed cable car project.

Friends of Penang Hill also reminded the administration of how the first series of its “Save Penang Hill” campaign back in September 1990 succeeded in saving one of the last remaining natural forest sanctuaries from being lost to development.

That campaign was said to have even cost then chief minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu his seat in the general election in October the same year.

According to then Friends of Penang Hill legal adviser Meenakshi Raman, if the state authority continues to push for the cable car, the civil liberties group will have to revive the “Save Penang Hill 2.0” campaign, and draw in the Friends of Botanical Gardens as well as the nature park, too, will be affected, and the people at large.

She said they would have to raise awareness about the consequences of the proposed cable car on the environment and its surroundings.

“I think the ‘Save Penang Hill’ campaign was such an important lesson for everybody that it garnered much opposition then.

“Penangites feel passionate about the state’s environmentally sensitive areas and, in fact, many people come to the island precisely for what they view as green,” she told the New Straits Times recently.

During Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz’s visit to Penang last month, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had yet again reminded him of the proposed cable car for the state.

Meenakshi urged the state authority to come clean and make public and transparent the plan for the proposed cable car, which will link Penang Hill Botanical Gardens and Teluk Bahang.

“Show us the plan so that we, and the people, can study and judge for ourselves, as well as understand the full implications of the project, which they had claimed was not harmful. We need to know and we have every right to know.”

Meenakshi noted that while the younger generation might have forgotten how they fought tooth and nail to protect Penang Hill then, the older generation certainly had not.

“What was unprecedented was that people went to the Department of Environment. In the history of the department and the country, you would never have seen that much engagement on a particular project.

“People, including foreigners, wrote in to voice their objections. Even children wrote letters to the department to the tune of ‘Save Penang Hill; Stop This’. It captured the imagination of everyone.”

The proposed project, which was expected to involve 900ha of land stretching the length of the hill, would have seen the springing of entertainment centres, hotels and shopping complex to attract local and international tourists.

It was scrapped when then chief minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon came to power.

Meenakshi said Penang Hill mostly comprised forests, which contained protected trees, and also served as a water catchment area.

“Any form of development, let alone a massive one, will have a serious impact on the environment such as soil erosion, loss of water supply, the flooding of the lowland nearby and air pollution apart from the destruction of trees, flora and fauna.

“That is why, for us, there is no justification whatsoever for the proposed cable car,” she stressed, adding that they could not believe that such a project could be conceived, more so on such a fragile and sensitive ecosystem, with Penang Hill categorised as an environmentally sensitive area in the Penang Structure Plan.

“Recognising that, the state authority should take every care and precaution not to trample on the environment.”

Meenakshi said if the justification was to promote the jewel of Penang as a tourist draw, Penang Hill was already drawing crowds.

“There is a limited carrying capacity. The ecosystem can only carry so much, beyond which, it can’t manage.

What happens is that you have to cater for public utilities, so a whole lot of consequential problems will arise.”

She stressed that the proposed cable car would also impact the Botanical Gardens, another environmentally sensitive area.

“If Penang Hill is the jewel, the Gardens is the other gem we should be protecting.”

She noted that the Gardens was congested and any adjacent development would complicate the situation.

Penang Hill, located about 830m above sea level, was almost lost to development in the 1990s when Berjaya Corporation proposed to develop the hill.

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