Malaysians, particularly those advocating environmental protection, have good reasons to rejoice over the Selangor government’s recent move to reverse its decision to de-gazette the north Kuala Langat forest reserve.
It was simply People Power that drove the 18-month campaign to save the forest.
It is an important triumph that witnessed a wide spectrum of people, ranging from social activists, environmentalists, Orang Asli, netizens, politicians and concerned citizens being united by a deep concern for the survival of a precious 8,000-year-old peat swamp forest that is blessed with biodiversity and wildlife.
They were moved by the realisation that denuding a forest as vital as this north Kuala Langat forest reserve in the name of development, ie the usual justification, is no longer tenable, especially given global climate change.
This explains why there were 45,423 objections from the public, 130,000 signatures on online petitions, and close to 1,500 emails sent to Selangor state assembly members to express their opposition to the move to de-gazette the forest reserve the size of 751 football fields.
Not that these people are blindly opposed to development, as they are often portrayed to be by those who have the penchant for reckless deforestation and see money in almost every green pocket of the country.
The fact that Malaysia was reported to have achieved in the period between 2000 and 2012 the highest deforestation rate in the world is not something one would wear on the sleeve.
The north Kuala Langat forest reserve issue also brings to the fore the importance of genuine consultation with stakeholders, such as the Orang Asli, environmentalists and nature lovers, before any project is implemented.
The Orang Asli often get the brunt of so-called development projects that encroach on their customary native lands in the forest.
Such consultation is especially vital for development projects that are environmentally sensitive, the destructive process of which is irreversible.
It is appreciated that the Selangor state government, Menteri Besar Amiruddin Shari in particular, eventually responded positively to the people’s objections.
The state – or any state in the federation – needs to be always reminded that it should be accountable to its constituents – which is why it has to be transparent in dealing with projects that have environmental consequences. The move to de-gazette a forest reserve in a hushed manner puts off many people.
Concern for environmental protection has wide appeal, as shown by the objections to the move expressed by people from all walks of life and beyond the borders of Selangor.
The call made by Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) vice-president Dr Thanussha Francis Xavier to fellow Malaysians to be vigilant about environmental issues that emerge elsewhere in the country was thus appropriate. She cautioned about development projects that are ongoing despite clear environmental implications in Johor, Pahang, Kedah and Kelantan, for instance.
Drawing from the experience of the Defend North Kuala Langat Forest Reserve coalition, concerned Malaysians are well placed to help each other in campaigning for environmental protection around the country.
The physical environment is part of us. We cannot afford to divorce ourselves from it. – The Malaysian Insight