Sunday, May 22, 2022

Villagers in rural Kedah fear fallout if quarry project continues

They are concerned about the damage to the environment as well as the dangers to their own health and safety.

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More than 1,500 villagers from Kampung Padang Che Mas in Baling, Kedah, are up in arms over a quarry project which they fear will not only cause environmental degradation but may even endanger their lives.

The quarry activities are being planned along a stretch from Gunung Baling to Gunung Pulai – an area which, according to the villagers, is recognised as a green zone.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Abdul Mutalib Zakaria also said that his village is a hotspot for eco-tourism in Baling.

He hopes the project can be cancelled due to its close proximity to his village.

“Quarry activities will be carried out about 3km from our village,” he said, adding that he was initially informed that the bulldozers which arrived to clear a route through the area would do so for research purposes.

Kampung Padang Che Mas lies close to Gunung Pulai in Baling, Kedah, an area which they say has been gazetted as a forest reserve.

“When we met them, they said the route was to take rock samples for research. At first, the route from the foot of the hill was only 1km but it has now stretched beyond 3km to the peak.”

The quarry site is expected to take up 26.3 hectares of space.

‘No permit of approval’

Another villager, Mohd Khairi Zakaria, said he was told by the Baling land and district office that there was no permit of approval for any quarry activities around the area.

“How can this project be approved when there is no permit?” he said while questioning whether the companies had “intruded” into the area without the knowledge of the district officer.

“In order to start a quarry project, discussions must be held with the land and district office before any decision is made.”

Khairi said Kedah Chief Minister Muhammad Sanudi Md Nor had also informed him that the quarry in Gua Sirih would be cancelled.

“That was long ago in the 1970s when the area was not as densely populated. It’s different now,” he said.

Khairi said he had sent a memorandum to the chief minister’s office, the environment exco, the director of the environmental department and the director of the Kedah lands and mines department.

Villagers walk past equipment which they say is used to drill holes through the limestone hills in which explosives are then placed.

“I reached out to the environment and water minister, Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, and he asked us to be patient until we receive a response from the state government,” he said.

“He said this matter should be referred to the state government first.”

A recent visit to the area by MalaysiaNow found that the quarry activities had stopped although the impact on the environment was clear.

‘Bomb-like sound’

Kamarudin Azit, another villager from Kampung Padang Che Mas, is afraid that the project will endanger their lives.

“While I was out rubber tapping, I heard a huge explosion that sounded like a bomb. It shocked me and almost made me lose my balance,” he said.

“It’s even more dangerous as the rubber plantation is on an incline. It’s a hilly area and there could be an accident if we panic.”

He said he has heard such explosions several times now. Each time they occur, rocks and debris falls onto the villagers’ farms and gardens.

A villager points towards a hole in the hill where explosives are placed in order to clear a route.

Environmental activist Mohd Sobri Ramlee has his concerns about the project as well. Sobri, from Sahabat Alam Sik, said it would affect the ecosystem and cause noise and dust pollution to boot.

“Gunung Baling is a landmark in the area,” he said. “If the quarry project proceeds, it will be gone.”

In a Facebook post, he said the villagers had heard the first explosion on March 15, adding that it had traumatised the children and the elderly among them.

He also voiced concern over the impact on the livestock and livelihoods of the villagers.

“The explosives and the extracting process of the limestone will produce fine particles in the air,” he said. “According to experts, it could cause lung cancer and perhaps even death.”

He said important historical artefacts could be found at Gua Sireh which he said could be explored and further researched.

“The national heritage department also discovered a 17,000-year-old artefact around the Gunung Pulai area,” he said.

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