Planting durian trees on hills risky, warns Penang group

Smoke arises from the clearing of vegetation for a durian plantation on a hilltop in Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: A environment-interest group today said fruit farms cannot crop up on any highland without permission from several authorities for it might cause long-term erosion issues.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) said in the case of a Penang hilltop, illegally cleared to set up a durian farm, there was no reported planning permission or even a permit from the land administrator, as required for all hill land.

SAM president Meenakshi Raman said without the necessary approvals, clearings on hilltops might spell disaster in the long run, contributing to mud floods or “teh tarik” water at the foot of the hills in the long run.

She said in the case of Bukit Kukus, being illegally cleared for a durian farm, the argument that the state structure plan (PSP) allows for fruit plants to be planted on highlands was not “blanket permission” for landowners to do what they wanted.

Meenakshi said the spirit of the PSP — the state’s legally binding town planning blueprint — restricts the planting of vegetables or short-term crops.

She said if one was to plant long-term crops, landowners must comply with provisions under the Land Conservation Act 1960 (LCA) as well as the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 (TCPA).

She said the LCA spells out guidelines for conserving hill land and to protect its soil from erosion. She said the law also states any earthworks must get a permit from the land administrators beforehand.

“A mere letter, without any clear permit with terms and conditions imposed to ensure soil conservation measures and prevention of environmental mishaps, is contrary to the law,” she said.

The durian farmers on Bukit Kukus had allegedly used “permission letters” from the agriculture ministry to start planting there.

“And going by the city council’s prior stop-work orders on the durian farm, we can safely assume that the landowners did not first get permission to carry out earthworks, let alone apply for planning permission under the TCPA.

“Projects at such a high elevation require proper environmental measures to be taken.

“Otherwise, it would be an invitation for future disasters such as land-slips, soil erosion and flash floods downstream, as is frequently seen in Penang, following intense rains.

“We are shocked how the landowners have been allowed to carry on despite not following the requisite laws.”

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