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Wrong to approve EIA for Penang cable car project without public participation

Granting approvals without transparency undermines public confidence.

Meenakshi Raman
2 minute read

It is wrong for the director-general of the Department of Environment (DOE) to approve the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the Penang Hill Cable Car project without public display and public feedback.

This is because, under the Environmental Quality (Prescribed Activities) (Environmental Impact Assessment) Order 2015, all activities that relate to "transportation" are listed as a 2nd Schedule activity, which under the order, requires public display and public comment.

In the 2nd Schedule of the EIA Order, "transportation" is listed as a prescribed activity and includes the “construction of new routes or branch line for a mass rapid transport project”.

Our view is that the cable car project is indeed a “mass rapid transport project”, as it involves the transportation of 1,000 passengers per hour to the top of the hill as announced by Cheok Lay Leng, general manager of Penang Hill Corporation (PHC).

The cable car line may only be 2.7 km, but the entire system is being constructed on very environmentally sensitive areas involving both Penang Hill, which is a biosphere reserve, and the Penang Botanical Gardens.

Moreover, the cable car project also involves slopes which are steep and beyond 35-degree gradient in parts, which requires the EIA to be under the 2nd Schedule of the EIA Order, thus requiring public display and comments.

Hence, both from legal, environmental and social impact standpoints, it would have been proper and prudent for the EIA to be made public for comments and feedback. 

We are told that only 50 trees will be moved for the RM245 million cable car project and the project is environmentally friendly. That may be the view of the authorities, but it is for the public to make an independent assessment of these assurances.

The point is that the law must be obeyed, and public display and comment is mandatory prior to any approval under the law on EIAs for such a mass rapid transport which is on very steep slopes in an environmentally sensitive area.

Moreover, even in obtaining planning approvals under the Town and Country Planning Act 1976, a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) has to be done, including Traffic Impact Assessments (TIA). None of these have been made public.

Penang Hill and the Botanic Gardens are areas of much public interest.

Apart from the legalities, it is indeed good governance and practice to publicly display the EIA, SIA and TIA for public feedback and comments.

Granting approvals without transparency undermines public confidence.

We call on the DOE and the Penang state government to make public these documents and not commence further works until the public is given a chance to provide their feedback on the cable car project.

Meenakshi Raman is president, Sahabat Alam Malaysia.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.