Public taken for ride on road to ‘ugly Penang’, says activist

Activist Meenakshi Raman speaks at the PTMP forum in Dewan Sri Pinang, George Town, as several people hold placards condemning the state’s transport masterplan.

GEORGE TOWN: A prominent Penang-based activist today joined growing criticism of the state’s controversial transport master plan, accusing the DAP-led administration of deceiving the public on the real impact of several highways cutting through sensitive areas.

Meenakshi Raman, a former ISA detainee who once campaigned for the closure of the Bukit Merah rare earth plant in the 1980s, told a forum organised by the Penang government today that the public must be able to visualise how the highways go through places, and not just as “lines going through a map”.

“People have no idea what they are going to lose. These highways are going to massively transform the charm of a beautiful Penang Island we know,” said Meenakshi.

“You might have a hill view today, but that is going to go. You are going to have an elevated highway with a noise barrier, which is so ugly,” she said, adding that Penangites used to seeing beautiful views of the hills and sea must prepare to lose their “visual vista”.

She said the state government’s explanation to build nearly 70km of elevated roads was opaque and technical, and laymen would have difficulty understanding how the project would affect their lives.

PTMP is the state government’s plan to build a series of highways and transit lines, its solution to future traffic conditions.

‘Engineers can’t perform magic’

Meenakshi, a legal officer with the Consumers’ Association of Penang who was among hundreds detained under the Ops Lalang in 1987, questioned the assurances of safety and best engineering practices.

She said she had learnt lessons from last year’s condo collapse tragedy in Tanjung Bungah, which killed 11 and injured three.

“I sat at the inquiry and in the end, you will learn that you cannot trust the engineers.

“They will say, we will do this and do that. The city council will monitor this. The Department of Environment (DoE) will do that. In reality, they are not good enough to monitor and inspect anything in the long run.

“Engineers pretend they can perform miracles. I am sorry, but if we leave our fate to engineers, then God help us. I will not put my faith on the authorities or engineers and tell myself ‘don’t worry, be happy’,” she said.

She gave an example of the North Coast Paired Road (NCPR), a 10.5km highway (which is yet to take off) which was approved by the environment regulators.

The project had drawn protests from the Tanjung Bungah Residents’ Association led by Meenakshi.

She said despite cutting through sensitive parts of the hills in Tanjung Bungah and Teluk Bahang, the project was okayed by the DoE in Nov 2017.

Meenakshi said many of the mitigation measures proposed and type of surveys done had left her “horrified”, adding that there had been no response to her letters to the chief minister.

Meenakshi said the Penang government must reveal all details of the highway projects in layman’s language.

“This is not a contest whether we support the state government or not. Mind you, we voted in the state government, we all did.

“Those who love their cars and love to drive, I must ask you, do you love Penang enough?