By Annabelle Lee

The proposed alignment for the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) is set to cut through the Kuala Langat (North) Forest Reserve.

This is the same protected forest that the Selangor Forestry Department plans to degazette for development.

An Orang Asli village tells Malaysiakini that the train tracks will also cut through their farmlands and is opposing the mega infrastructure project.

ECRL owner Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd (MRL), however, has disputed the village’s claim.

Forest reserve

According to a map exhibited at an ECRL public inspection booth, the portion of the train line after the Jenjarom station is observed to pass through a section of the forest reserve.

When contacted, MRL confirmed that the ECRL alignment will affect approximately 21.4ha of the forest reserve.

This accounts for 2.2 percent of the 958ha forest reserve.

“Yes, the ECRL alignment traverses the Kuala Langat (North) Forest Reserve along its eastern boundary which is adjacent to Gamuda Cove (development).

“Based on our calculations the estimated area that may be involved is approximately 21.4ha,” it explained in a statement to Malaysiakini.

MRL noted that it neither applied nor wants for the forest reserve to be degazetted for the project.

This portion of the ECRL – dubbed Section C – is up for public scrutiny from now until April 14.

Public inspection booths are located at the Transport Ministry headquarters in Putrajaya; Land Public Transport Agency head office in Kuala Lumpur; and Land District Offices in Temerloh, Jelebu, Seremban, Sepang and Kuala Langat.

Kampung Busut Baru

The ECRL public inspection booth map also showed that the proposed track was close to Temuan Orang Asli village Kampung Busut Baru.

When contacted by Malaysiakini, the village’s tok batin (chief) Sari Senin recounted the rude shock he had upon visiting an ECRL public inspection booth recently.

Not only did the train tracks cut through the protected forest, he observed that it also ran through roaming areas and farming plots of his village.

He specifically pointed out parts of the track numbered 555500, 556000, 556500 and 557000 on the map.

Sari said that he was previously “verbally informed” by the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) that the ECRL project would cut through their land.

Last week, he said land surveyors had come by his village.

He questioned why the village had not been properly informed about the project.

“We have not been informed by the state government.

“They (Jakoa) just told us verbally that the ECRL will come through our village but they did not give us any letters,” he said.

In its statement to Malaysiakini, MRL, however, said it was “unlikely” that any Orang Asli in the area would be affected by the ECRL development.

It measured that Kampung Busut Baru was “approximately 2km away” from the train tracks.

“We have identified villages that are very close to the alignment and are currently developing measures to minimise impacts to these villages,” the company said.

MRL added that it had been liaising with Jakoa to reach out to Orang Asli tok batins since Aug 2019.

On Feb 11, Sari wrote a letter to Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari on indicating his village’s opposition to the ECRL alignment.

Not only would the project jeopardise their way of life and main source of income as oil palm smallholders, he contended in the letter that the disruption was doubly unfair seeing that development had forced them to uproot once before.

Back in 1993, the village had relocated from its original location in Sepang after the area was made into the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

As compensation, the government had given them a 1,000-acre (997.5ha) plot at the present location, 40km away.

Sari said he has yet to receive a response from the state government.

“We are considering our next course of action,” he said.

Twenty seven years on, Kampung Busut Baru is now home to 85 Temuan families and 600 people.

Yesterday, Amirudin held a press conference to explain that the degazettement proposal was due to the ECRL project and how almost half of the forest reserve comprised “degraded” trees, making development the better option.

He stressed that no Orang Asli settlement, forest or roaming area would be affected by the move.

Taking advantage?

Sari further alleged that certain quarters were taking advantage of the ECRL alignment to apply for the entire forest reserve to be degazetted.

“I think when the ECRL crossed through the forest reserve, they took the opportunity to degazette the forest reserve that we have now.

“They want to cancel the entire gazettement,” he alleged.

On Feb 5, the Selangor Forestry Department department published a notice that it plans to degazette the 930.93ha of the forest reserve for a “mixed development project”.

This constitutes 97.1 percent of the protected area. In contrast, the ECRL project is estimated to pass through 2.2 percent of the forest reserve.

Published in several newspapers, the notice made no mention of the ECRL project.

Members of the public have 30 days from the notice date to submit their feedback.

Opposition mounts

Since news broke of the degazettement notice, a “Save Kuala Langat Forest Reserve” online petition has emerged.

Directed at Selangor Forestry Department director Mohd Ridzuwan Endot, more than 16,000 signatures were recorded at publication time.

Environmental groups Malaysian Nature Society and Global Environment Centre (GEC) have also opposed the move, highlighting the importance of the forest reserve as a peat swamp forest.

The GEC noted that the area was the habitat for the Malayan sun bear, Selangor pygmy flying squirrel and the Langat red fighting fish. It also contained meranti bakau trees.

Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Dr Xavier Jayakumar, who is the Kuala Langat MP, has objected to destroying the green lung and urged the Selangor government to reconsider the move.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P Waythamoorthy, who oversees Jakoa, has also confirmed that degazetting the forest reserve for development will affect three other Orang Asli villages – Kampung Bukit Kecil, Kampung Bukit Cheeding and Kampung Bukit Kempas.