Speculation is rife that a development project opposite Kampung Sungai Ruil may have contributed to the landslide.
CAMERON HIGHLANDS: The villagers of Kampung Sungai Ruil in Tanah Rata are scratching their heads over the cause of Sunday’s landslide which swallowed three homes and snatched seven lives from their community.
The century-old village is the oldest Orang Asli settlement in Cameron Highlands with about 145 houses scattered over the rolling hills.
The area is used to being battered by torrential rain but few of the 1,200-odd Semelai Orang Asli who live there recalled seeing signs of loosening earth. Even more puzzling was that there was no downpour preceding the landslide as previously reported.
A plainclothes policeman, who asked to remain anonymous, told FMT that the weather had been good on Sunday evening and it was a “complete mystery” as to how the tragedy had occurred.
Then he glanced furtively over his shoulder at a construction site behind him and softly said, “Maybe it’s because of them.”
He was not the first to point a discreet finger at LBS Bina Group Bhd which is in the midst of developing the land directly opposite the village.
A prominent businessman familiar with the area said that when earthworks began four months ago the developer had blocked off certain sections of the river and redirected its flow towards the slope.
“It may not be the sole reason for the landslide but it is definitely a big contributing factor,” he said.
No details of developer
The policeman agreed and added, “LBS wants to build a township here but the saddest part is that this village will have to make way for it. And with the landslide there will be more reason to relocate them.”
Research assistant from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’ Academic Heritage, Aishah Mohamed Yusoff, visited the village four months ago as part of a field trip and raised concerns over the development site.
“I am told that the land is supposed to be an Orang Asli land reserve and there were recent smaller landslides at the site that blocked the road leading to the village,” she said via text message. “The villagers are not happy about the construction at all.”
Earthworks were still ongoing when FMT visited the village yesterday evening. The road leading to the area was slick with mud and there was no official signboard with details of the development or developer.
Cameron Highlands MP, SK Devamany, however, said that he had not heard of such claims as yet but assured that action would be taken against the developer if it were true.
“Let the Geological Department and the District Office conduct investigations first,” he said. “From what I know there are many rivers and small streams running through the terrain which tend to get clogged by rotting trees and other debris. The earth in that area is also soft.”
“During a downpour the stagnated water can cause the soil to loosen which is why I’ve constantly pushed the Drainage and Irrigation Department to regularly clear this debris to facilitate water flow.”
‘Land belongs to Orang Asli’
Devamany, however, dismissed allegations that LBS intends to take over the village, saying that the developer had no right to the land.
He clarified that some of the villagers had been previously asked to relocate because their houses were too close to the stream.
“The land belongs to the Orang Asli and their sanctuary must always be left to them,” he said. “And if it is true that LBS wants that land, I will personally prevent them from having it.”
“What we plan to do is redevelop it by building more solid houses but still retaining their cultural heritage. And they will be part of this redevelopment plan.”
FMT contacted LBS but has not received a response.