PERAK Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Saarani Mohamad has been accused of making “inaccurate and misleading” remarks over a lanthanide rare earth mining project in Hulu Perak that is said to be radioactive.
Among others, he had said that the area in which the project is located is not part of the permanent forest reserves of the Central Forest Spine (CFS), adding that he checked with the relevant departments on this.
However, the Biodiversity, Environment, Agroecology, Climate Change and Habitats (B.E.A.CC.H) umbrella group of civil society organisations (CSOs) said this was “completely untrue” as parts of the project site form part of Primary Linkage 8 of the CFS Master Plan.
This was further confirmed by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) executive summary that was made available by the Environment Department recently.
B.E.A.CC.H, which is also the environmental cluster of the CSO Platform for Reform, said other parts of the project site form part of the Kenderong Forest Reserve as well.
“In other words, this project would completely undermine the CFS Master Plan, which identifies the location of the project site as a key area for forest connectivity,” it said in a statement today that was endorsed by 21 other CSOs.
As such, the CSOs urged Saarani to retract his remarks concerning the lanthanide mining project and gazette the entire site in question as a forest reserve.
B.E.A.CC.H coordinator Leela Panikkar also noted that the lanthanide mining project’s EIA clearly states that the project site is high in biodiversity value and an important habitat for critically endangered species such as the Malayan tiger, Malayan tapir and Asian elephant.
To go ahead with the project, she said, would render conservation efforts to protect these critically endangered species “meaningless” and “only increase” human-wildlife conflicts, of which there have already been several records.
“Conflict of interest”
Meanwhile, B.E.A.CC.H member Sustainable Development Network Malaysia (SUSDEN Malaysia) questioned the “clear conflict of interest” in the Gerak District Council’s approval of the lanthanide mining project since it is one of the project’s land owners.
According to the project’s EIA, the district council is the land owner for land parcel C, involving 89.99 acres or 36.42 hectares of land that would be developed by Tulus Mentari Holdings Sdn Bhd.
“There are also general concerns regarding the weaknesses of the EIA process,” added SUSDEN Malaysia president Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah.
“It is supposed to function as a safeguard to ensure that areas of high biodiversity value and environmental sensitivity are protected against development.”
However, if such projects still get the green light despite their sites being recognised for environmental significance in the EIA reports themselves, “then the process is not serving its function effectively to prevent environmental disasters”.
B.E.A.CC.H also said that all forest areas identified in the CFS Master Plan need to be kept intact, not just “primary linkages”.
The Peninsular Malaysia Town and Country Planning Department’s 2009 final report on the CFS Master Plan for Ecological Linkages defines primary linkages as areas where it is crucial to re-establish forest connectivity in order to achieve the main CFS link.
Such linkages are located between the most important blocks of forests, usually in narrow stretches where non-forest land use is still minimal, and act as important corridors to large mammals which use these areas to move from one forest to another.
“There would be no point maintaining the primary linkages while parts of the forest reserves in the CFS itself, which the primary linkages were supposed to link, are excised,” the umbrella group said.
“Areas that were excised need to be reforested and re-gazetted as forest reserves or protected areas to achieve the goals under the CFS Master Plan,” it added, noting that all federal agencies and state Governments, including Perak’s, are duty-bound to protect the CFS and primary linkages clearly identified in its Master Plan. – Oct 6, 2022
Main photo credit: Malaya Post