THE landslide in Lengkok Lembah Permai, Tanjung Bungah, Penang, is a tragedy for at least two reasons. One is most certainly because 11 innocent lives were lost. The other is because people who were in the position not to proceed with the development project, despite receiving disapproval from the authorities, did not pay heed to the advice. Advice was aplenty, from Putrajaya and Penang, too. One was from the Department of Environment (DoE), which issued a letter of rejection on Jan 23, 2015, to developer Taman Sri Bunga Sdn Bhd (TSBSB) when the latter applied for planning approval. Now, how the developer went ahead in spite of DoE’s rejection remains a mystery. Non-governmental organisations and others have been calling for a halt to projects on the hills, reminding developers and authorities about earlier tragedies in the country. But some chose to be as deaf as doorposts.
The DoE had very good reasons to reject TSBSB’s “Application for Planning Approval”. The hillside development is located next to a granite quarry, which has been operating since 1960, and has all the signs of continuing for many years to come. And, there is no buffer zone between the apartment project and the quarry, whose blasting site is a mere 400 to 500m away. The quarry’s crushing site is just 162m off the proposed apartments. Just think of the safety and health issues that the housebuyers would have to put up with. Whither the so-called corporate social responsibility (CSR) that many Malaysian companies boast about? CSR seems to be reduced to philanthropy, and some occasional photo opportunities for C-suite executives. This is a gross misunderstanding of the philosophy and principle of CSR. A company that cares for people and the environment will conduct its entire business operation in a responsible manner. No exemptions, no exceptions, be it a small developer or a Fortune 500 company. While everyone connected to the Lengkok Lembah Permai apartment project must shoulder the burden and guilt of the tragedy, the question remains — how did TSBSB proceed with work despite DoE’s disapproval?
Why do we forget so easily? The 1993 Highland Towers tragedy that took 48 lives is not ancient history; it is less than a generation old. And, it was due to a landslide, too. There have been others, like the landslide in Bukit Antarabangsa in 2008 that took four lives and buried 14 bungalows. Have we not learnt anything? Building residential towers or apartments on hills requires clearing of trees and surface plants that bind the earth together, and, clearing them means creating the conditions for landslides to happen. Developers and authorities know this, and yet they sprout like mushrooms on hills. Well, almost. The landslide in Lengkok Lembah Pantai was a tragedy that signalled its coming. People working at the construction site had witnessed minor landslides before the big one on Saturday. The last minor landslide at the site was on Thursday, two days before it was too late for anyone to do anything. This is the tragedy of not taking heed.