Despite public hearing, group claims Selangor authorities prevaricating on degazettement of Bukit Cerakah forest reserve

Between August and September last year, the MBSA carried out a public feedback exercise for their 2035 local plan draft, which included a proposal to build a road across the existing forested land, also known to the local community as the Shah Alam Community Forest (SACF). — AFP pic
Between August and September last year, the MBSA carried out a public feedback exercise for their 2035 local plan draft, which included a proposal to build a road across the existing forested land, also known to the local community as the Shah Alam Community Forest (SACF). — AFP pic

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SHAH ALAM, April 8 — The Bukit Cerakah Forest Reserve (SACF) Society alleged that the Selangor government failed to clarify the degazettement of the land, despite today’s intense public hearing session at the Shah Alam City Council (MBSA) headquarters here.

Between August and September last year, the MBSA carried out a public feedback exercise for their 2035 local plan draft, which included a proposal to build a road across the existing forested land, also known to the local community as the Shah Alam Community Forest (SACF).

The MBSA had also planned to turn the natural lowland rainforest with hardwood trees — that was reportedly designated as “Tanah Kerajaan” (government land) — into a cemetery.

Today is the first public hearing following the feedback exercise.

Afterwards, the SACF Society released a press statement and said the MBSA received 718 objections for the road and 195 objections for the cemetery from the public.

“In conclusion, no one from the authorities could give a definite answer on whether SACF has been legally degazetted. The hearing concluded with Ng Sze Han saying that MBSA will carry out an in-depth investigation on the legal status of this forest ASAP.

“If indeed the forest has not been degazetted via proper procedures (including a public consultation as is required by Selangor state forestry laws), then it is unlawful for MBSA or any other party to develop the forest,” the statement read, referring to the state’s local government, public transport and new village development committee chairman.

“There were 12 objected issues lined-up for the day. Everyone was seated in a waiting hall according to our respective issue. When it was our turn (U10 Road objection), we were ushered into a closed-door hall where the panel and relevant authorities were seated. We were warned not to take photos or videos,” the statement read.

The Bukit Cerakah Forest Reserve was constituted under a Selangor government gazette and originally comprised 23,826 acres. As of October 2020, following a total of four extensions and 21 excisions, the reserve had a net area of 6,482 acres remaining.

In March, the group said they discovered that parts of the area still remained a forest reserve yet development still took place and roads built, with further plans to commercialise the area and build houses.

The statement today said that during the meeting, one SACF founder Teckwyn Lim, an adjunct lecturer at the School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at University of Nottingham Malaysia, had questioned the legality of any development on the piece of forested land as there are no degazettement notices of its excisement. 

“This fact has been brought to the attention of the Selangor State Secretary as well as the Selangor Forestry Dept by SACF Society and none has refuted it. Representatives of Pejabat Tanah Petaling who were present at the hearing were also unable to clarify this matter. The Selangor Forestry Department (JPNS) was not present as the entire department is currently in Port Dickson for a workshop.

“State Tourism, Environment, Green Technology and Indigenous People’s Affairs Committee chairman  Hee Loy Sian said during the hearing that it is probable that the degazettement process of SACF and several parcels of forested land in the vicinity were not carried out properly between 2002 and 2007 as he has encountered a similar case (Bukit Lagong). Hee Loy Sian said that he will follow up closely on the matter,” the group said.

It added that an overwhelming public support for SACF to be protected as a community forest reserve has also been received, with over 66,000 signatures garnered via its online petition to protect the forest for ecological, recreational and educational purposes.

During the session, the MBSA panel was also questioned by the group’s founder and secretary Alicia Teoh, on the need for the proposed road, saying that a link road between Setia Alam and Persiaran Mokhtar Dahari already existed.

The group said that Teoh had stated that the road will not be able to provide “invaluable long-term benefits that preserving this forest would” in terms of ecological services such as flood mitigation, lower ambient temperatures, water catchment and others, which includes natural forest trails to hike in and de-stress, as well as an educational platform to teach nature sciences and environmental stewardship for Shah Alam residents.

Dr Rosli Omar from Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES) and Damien Thanam from Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam (Peka) Malaysia were also present at the session and voiced concerns on the displacement of treasured wildlife which thrive in SACF.

“Dr Rosli and Damien brought up the irreversible impacts on wildlife, including further loss of large mammals like the endangered tapir which still roam the forests here, as well as increase in human-wildlife conflict should the forest be fragmented by the road and shrunken by development. Damien questioned if Jabatan Perhilitan has been consulted by MBSA concerning this matter. There were no answers from the panel. 

“SACF Society has prepared a better alternative plan for the forested land in question that is in line with what the community it represents wants. This plan is to establish SACF as a full-fledged Urban Community Forest that will be a model of sustainable city planning for the rest of the country,” the statement read.

In May 1909, Bukit Cherakah Forest Reserve was constituted in the Selangor Government Gazette comprising 23,826 acres. As of October 2020, following a total of four extensions and 21 excisions, the reserve had a net area of 6,482 acres remaining.

The group said that the SACF was found to be still part of the remaining forested land and has not yet been excised by the Selangor state government.

“Hence under existing laws, this area is still a Permanent Forest Reserve (Hutan Simpanan Kekal) and cannot be developed without first undergoing due public consultations to change its status,” it added.

The group said that the findings are from a study it commissioned, with funding from the UN’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme.

The study was carried out with the assistance of legal experts from the Environment and Climate Change Committee of the Malaysian Bar Council led by Kiu Jia Yaw, and a team of mapping and forestry experts led by Lim.

“On behalf of groups of civil-society organisations, SACF Society’s lawyers have submitted a letter and detailed findings of this matter to the Selangor State Secretary and Selangor Forestry Department in November 2020. To date, neither have responded to refute our claims,” the group added.

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