BY UMSU PRESS
The Degazettement of Kuala Langat North Forest (KLNF): Months' battle for environmentalists and Orang Asli activists in Malaysia | UMSU Press
Previously we discussed the case of a young environmental activist, Shakila Zen and the harassment issue (Acid attack threat on a young female activist). We might wonder what kinds of environmental issues our environmental activists, like Shakila Zen, were voicing out. Here, we will be discussing a serious environmental issue that has been going around and causing rage from the environmentalists and Orang Asli activists for several years -- the degazettement of Kuala Langat North Forest (KLNF).
The degazettement of Kuala Langat North Forest.
The Kuala Langat North Forest has been around for over 8,000 years and was first gazetted as a forest reserve in 1927. Situated at the peatlands, this forest serves as a home and cultural heritage of Orang Asli and a natural reservoir for sustaining biodiversity, water supply, air quality and flood control for the people on the land. It secures the ecosystem in Selangor regions for many years. However, during the February of 2020 (even before the COVID-19 pandemic started), the problem started when the Selangor State Forestry Department notified the public of their intentions to degazette the forest, which alarmed the society.
It was told that 930.93 hectares (97%) of the forest reserve would be degazetted for the purpose of a ‘mixed development project’, in accordance with the Public Inquiry (Selangor) Rules 2014 and the National Forestry Act (Adoption) Enactment 1985. The notice was spread out through the media, inviting the attention from stakeholders in the Kuala Langat district to voice their objections to the proposal within 30 days. Although the official reasons were offered to the public, stating that continuous wildfire had destroyed 40% of the forest with the smoke affecting the adjacent highway, and developing houses in the area can be an effective strategy to reduce the fires, but the public are not accepting it. Thus, within the 30 days set, the statement provoked over 45,000 objections to the department.
Reasons for the objections.
There are multiple reasons for the uproars and objections from the public ,we can summarize it into two main reasons: (1) Negative impacts towards the environment, (2) The disregard of the Orang Asli people’s rights.
From the perspective of environmentalists, the clearing of forest area for urban development will cause ecological degradation, endangered species extinction, climate change and natural disasters. Moreover, the proposed degazettement of KLNF does not meet the State Government's 2035 State Structure plan to maintain 32% of the forest area in Selangor and also fails to comply with the environmental law which is set to conserve our natural resources.
At the same time, the Orang Asli activists and indigenous people living there, contended that the plan of degazettement will disregard the rights and interests of the indigenous communities who have been living there for many years. Hence, Dr Colin Nicholas, founder of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), alleged the state government to re-gazette the forest in order to protect the orang asli communities, their identity, culture and tradition.
What’s Now and What’s Next?
The re-gazettement of the KLNF issue was a long battle for both the environmentalists and Orang Asli activists. It was still on-going even when the public diverted their attention to issues regarding to COVID-19 pandemic. After 18 months of hard-fought battle, there was a light of dawn when the state government agreed to cancel the proposed development plan for KLNF and the ownership of the land to the company in question. The state government will also begin the procedure of regazetting the KLNF. However, the state government will consider maintaining a small area as degazetted for the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project alignment.
Although KLNF is promised to be re-gazetted, we still do not yet know how much of the forest will be re-gazetted. Moreover, it does not mean that we should stop concerning the related environmental issues that occur in our country. Environmental sustainability is a vital challenge for all the developing countries, including Malaysia, and our government should take extra attention to make the best decisions on urban development so that it does not cripple our ongoing effort on environmental conservation. While we are feeling relieved about the outcome of the KLNF issue, there are still more environmental issues occurring and we should not stop voicing out those issues for the best outcome to offer. For example, Shah Alam Community Forest (SACF) forest logging is still at risk. Also, the Terengganu reclamation project which will worsen the coastal erosion in that area must be taken into account.
Undeniably, environmental issues are the topics that are most likely to be neglected in our community but they still bring some of the biggest impacts to us. We could not bear more environmental disasters, such as the Gunung Jerai tragedy, to happen while still hearing some “act of God” explanations offered by the politicians. We, ourselves, should have the initiative to start protecting our environment before it is all too late.
Written by Secretariat of Current Affairs 2021
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