A Grave Matter

Kalthom Abdullah wrote a letter to the Prime Minister last week to seek his intervention. She felt there was no one else she could turn to.Even as she was writing her letter, lorries were carting away chopped trees from the Kota Damansara Community Forest Park, which is part of the Sungai Buloh forest reserve that has been protected since 1898, making it the oldest gazetted forest reserve.

Her family had bought a house in Section 8 from the Perbadanan Kemajuan Negri Selangor (PKNS), which had used the nearby forest reserve to promote the sale of its sprawling new township.

Many city folk who wanted to live near a green lung bought houses and land to build bungalows, believing that the state government would be committed to protecting the 100-year-old forest.

But residents at Section 8, 9 and 10 now feel cheated. They are also appalled at the eagerness of the state government in wanting to bulldoze through its plans in a high-handed manner without any respect for the views of the affected residents.

First, they were told that a cemetery would be created next to their land and now, to their horror, they found that the Petaling Jaya Structural Plan 2020 has bigger plans to develop the reserve.

There have been allegations that the cemetery is only part of a large-scale plan to create a township with the land being alienated to the Petaling Jaya City Council. One news report claimed that the council was entering into a joint-venture agreement with a company co-owned by two Indonesians.

It is already bad enough that the cemetery issue has divided the community – one group that wants the cemetery but most of whom do not live in the area while the other group is the one affected and is understandably against it.

Tempers have flared at meetings between both groups. And matters have aggravated with revelations that a sports complex, a community hall and living quarters for the Petaling Jaya City Council may be built on parts of the forest reserve.

State executive councillor and Kota Damansara assemblyman Datuk Mokhtar Dahalan, the proponent of the burial ground, has the support of one section of his constituents but he has been rightly questioned by others.

The cemetery covers 22ha but nature lovers want decent answers as to why a total of 58.83ha of the forest reserve had its status reportedly revoked, according to a gazette notification dated Aug 6, 2004.

More importantly, there is a huge track of land in Sungai Buloh already reserved as a burial ground. However, according to Mokhtar, it has been found to be unsuitable for burial. It has been said that the burial ground in several areas have been found to be too rocky but surely the authorities may want to consider remedial work. If an open sea can be reclaimed and mountains removed, surely it would not be an engineering feat.

The Kota Damansara controversy is not just about the setting up of a burial ground and the possible destruction of a forest reserve. It is not a religious issue and neither is it just about pleasing some nature lovers.

It is about respecting legal procedures and the views of residents affected the most by it. It is one thing to consult residents staying outside the affected area but another to hear out those in Section 8, 9 and 10. Imagine how Mokhtar would feel if a office block were built next to his home without his views being sought.

Residents are upset because they believe that the forest has been degazetted in a suspicious way that smacks of non-transparency.

It is commendable that the protesters, comprising residents of all races, have stood together despite attempts to use race and religion to break their solidarity.

These residents have expressed their disgust at such shameful tactics by certain individuals to intimidate and coax them into silence.

Elected representatives, regardless of their race or religion, should not tolerate any use of gangsterism to scare off those who do not share their views. It is utterly shameful.

It is also not true that the trees are less than 10 years old as claimed by certain officials at meetings because there are several species found only in primary forests. Doubters can call up the Malaysian Nature Society for a 40-page brochure of pictures and information on the Kota Damansara Community Forest.

The affected residents have stated that they are NOT against the setting up of a cemetery but are against the de-gazetting of the forest and the manner it had been carried out. Sadly, the cemetery issue has been used to rally support from some misinformed constituents.

The affected residents also want PKNS to put up its development plan so that the people would know whether these projects would benefit them or just the pockets of some people.

Their concerns are justified because the forest reserve has always faced constant development pressure.

The protest is not just about saving some birds or monkeys but a measurement of Malaysia’s commitment towards implementation of the Local Agenda 21 and protecting our greens.

If we cannot even be entrusted to save our forest reserve, how do we explain to our children and grandchildren why they no longer have a green environment?

News source: kd.communityforest.net