IPOH, Jan 12 — Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Saarani Mohamad today explained the reason the local councils had issued eviction notices to 14 cave temples in the Kinta district.

He said that the operators of the cave temples — which had become tourist draws over the years — were carrying out unauthorised development on the government-owned land they were occupying. 

He explained that limestone caves are sensitive to climate change, and that the construction works, made without government approval, could cause the interior to collapse, harming temple worshippers and other visitors.

“The notices were sent to the operators as there are active structural construction works in the caves without any approval. This invites security risks and damages the nature of the cave. 

“The notices were also issued after taking into account the critical slope monitoring report conducted by the Department of Minerals and Geosciences Malaysia, especially involving limestone cave areas,” he said in a press conference held at the Mentri Besar’s Office here today. 

Saarani said that the eviction notices were made under Section 425 of the National Land Code 1965 and are still valid.

“The weather right now is unpredictable. We have seen a lot of natural disasters. The threat is not only to the operators but also to the devotees and tourists as the cave temples are part of tourist attractions.

“This is why we have taken the necessary measure to avoid any unforeseen and unfortunate events from happening,” he said. 

Saarani said the temples were not being evicted on religious or racial bases as some might perceive.

“This is a matter of safety. If something happens in the cave temples then the state government has to be responsible,” he added. 

However, he said that the state executive council held a recent meeting and decided to form a special committee to discuss the status of all the 14 cave temples. 

“The special committee will decide the status of all the 14 houses of worship whether through reservation, Temporary Occupancy License or lease of reserve land.

“The committee will detail the conditions that need to be adhered to based on the status of the position determined.

“The committee will also determine the control mechanism for any structure and construction that needs to obtain approval from the local authorities,” he said. 

Saarani also said the state Fire Department, together with the Department of Minerals and Geosciences, are studying how severe the construction activities will have on the cave structure should there be a collapse.

He expects to receive their reports soon.

Saarani said that there are 41 houses of worship in the Kinta Valley that are housed within limestone caves.

He said three out of 32 in Ipoh own the land they are built on while 24 are built on reserved land and five are occupying government-owned land. 

He added that the remaining nine are located in Batu Gajah, and are all occupying government-owned land.

The spotlight on the eviction of cave temples started on January 9 when the Nam Thean Tong cave temple in Gunung Rapat here was reported by several news outlets to have received a notice from the Kinta District Office to vacate the cave within 30 days.

This cave temple, said to be 155 years old, is a frequently visited spot and located next to the Sam Poh Tong cave temple, another popular tourist destination.

It is understood that several other cave temples here are located on government land and have been issued with the same eviction notice or they could face action.

Yesterday, MCA chairman Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon said that the Perak Land and Mines Department has revoked the eviction notices following a meeting between him, representatives from the cave temples and the department last Monday.