Tireless, unwavering, consistent: Why we’ll never have another SM Idris

SM Mohamed Idris passed away at the age of 93 years old at about 5pm yesterday and will be laid to rest at the Perak Road Muslim Cemetery at 10am today.  — Picture by Opalyn Mok
SM Mohamed Idris passed away at the age of 93 years old at about 5pm yesterday and will be laid to rest at the Perak Road Muslim Cemetery at 10am today. — Picture by Opalyn Mok

GEORGE TOWN, May 18 ― Unlike politicians and some activists, SM Mohamed Idris was always consistent in his 50-year fight as Penang Consumers’ Association (CAP) president to protect consumers, as well as the environment.

The 93-year-old spoke without fear or favour against any authority, be it the federal government or any state government, not only Penang but other states too, to get his message across.

Regardless of which political party held the government of the day, Mohamed Idris continued to highlight issues that those in power had failed to address.

Widely seen as the father of consumer and environmental activism in Penang if not Malaysia, he was known for his vocal views on a myriad of issues that included consumer, environmental and social issues.

Let us look at some of the issues that he had raised among the thousands of statements and protests he had held throughout the years as the CAP and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president.

1. Tree-hugging protest

Perhaps one of the most prominent issues he was known for was his love for trees and the environment.

Mohamed Idris was the chairman of the tree planting committee when he was a municipal councillor back in the 1960s and during that period, he planted a large number of trees on the island.

So, it wasn’t surprising when he launched a tree-hugging protest back in 2016 to try to stop the local authority from relocating 16 trees to make way for a 1.8km road widening project along Jalan Masjid Negeri.

Mohamed Idris hugged a tree in the protest to drive in his message that those trees must not be relocated or removed from that stretch of road.

Unfortunately, the project was implemented and the trees were replanted at another spot elsewhere.

2. Stop Lynas campaign

Mohamed Idris had protested against Lynas Malaysia and listed the dangers of radioactive wastes from rare-earth processing since 2012.

Over the years, CAP and SAM had issued numerous statements against the Lynas plant.

Just last month, Mohamed Idris slammed Lynas Malaysia for allegedly making false and misleading claims that water leached purification (WLP) residue was “naturally occurring”.

CAP and SAM had called for waste from the WLP process to be removed from Malaysia and insisted that these wastes were not naturally-occurring radioactive material.

3. Opposing coastal reclamation

Mohamed Idris was always firm in his stand against reclamation which could destroy sensitive marine life and ecosystem.

In February this year, he launched SAM’s new publication titled “Impacts of Coastal Reclamation in Malaysia” at the Queens Bay Sea Shore Park that overlooked yet another ongoing reclamation and development project.

He had frequently criticised the state government for its reclamation plans including the ongoing Gurney Wharf project and the proposed Penang South Reclamation (PSR).

He was of the view that reclamation does not benefit the people but instead likened it to “committing suicide” by destroying nature for supposed development.

“This is all rubbish talk, all these developments only benefit the developers and construction companies, not the common people,” he had said in a press conference against the PSR in February.

He had also insisted that there was no need for the state to create three islands from PSR.

Similarly, he had also questioned the state government’s Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) especially its Pan Island Link 1 (PIL1) component that cuts through hills.

4. Telling us to be wary of what we eat

Other than environmental issues, Mohamed Idris often issued statements and held press conferences to warn of the dangers of some food especially those detrimental to our health.

Just a week ago, he issued a statement warning Muslims to beware of contaminated food at Ramadan bazaars due to unhygienic food preparation that could lead to food poisoning and water-borne diseases.

He was also the one to warn Muslim consumers of the dangers of non-halal fishes where some farms were found feeding non-halal animal by-products to their fishes.

Last year, in October, he warned consumers to stay away from the deep-fried papadums due to its high levels of sodium.

During festivals, he would remind consumers to be mindful of their meals and not to waste food unnecessarily.

5. Borderless activism

Mohamed Idris did not only raise concerns on issues in Penang but had also criticised similar social and environmental issues in other states.

Last month, he, through SAM, criticised the Kelantan, Perak, Pahang and Kedah state governments for approving the implementation of large scale monoculture plantations in Permanent Forest Reserves.

He had raised concerns over the arsenic pollution in Sungai Rui Gerik, Perak and called on the Perak government, the Department of Environment, Department of Irrigation and Drainage and the local authority to monitor and ensure the incident does not happen again.

In March, he called on the authorities to take stern action against those behind the chemical dumping at Sungai Kim Kim in Johor.

While he was often seen as critical of the authorities, Mohamed Idris also gave credit where credit was due.

When the prime minister announced plans to develop a National Orang Asli Development Blueprint, he welcomed and supported the proposal.

He also supported the Penang state government’s plans to ban single-use plastics this year.

Mohamed Idris passed away at the age of 93 years old at about 5pm yesterday and will be laid to rest at the Perak Road Muslim Cemetery at 10am today.

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