In Penang, more land clearings herald another ‘Bukit Botak’

In Penang, more land clearings herald another ‘Bukit Botak’

A Google Earth image dated Jan 22 showing the clearing next to Bukit Relau.

GEORGE TOWN: Authorities say a piece of land on a hill beside Bukit Relau, which was dubbed “Bukit Botak” due to illegal clearing seven years ago, has been similarly cleared despite a stop-work order from the Penang Island City Council (MBPP).

The new clearing was spotted following a complaint by a resident who said he had noticed smoke rising from the hilltop.

Google Earth images from January this year showed that at least 15 hectares of land – about the size of 15 football fields – were cleared in two sections about 300m above sea level.

This is more than 10 times the size of the Bukit Botak clearing, which was about one hectare large.

An official from MBPP said a stop-work order for illegal earthworks was issued to the landowners on March 3.

It is learnt that the landowners had told the city council that they had approval from the “agriculture ministry” to carry out farming activities in the area.

A picture from a concerned resident dated Jan 5 showing smoke rising from the hilltop. On the right is the nearly restored Bukit Relau, popularly known as ‘Bukit Botak’.

The Department of Environment also found evidence of open burning at the site, but said in a response to a resident sighted by FMT that it would only be able to take enforcement action once the movement control order (MCO) is lifted.

A resident at an apartment near the site in Bukit Gelugor said he had seen smoke rising from the hill since the MCO began.

“Before that, it was in January. We have complained many times but there has been no action,” he added.

Penang Hills Watch meanwhile said land clearing at the hill had begun as early as 2013, with access roads to the site built over the years.

It said it was told by MBPP that the land clearing was not approved and that a warning letter was issued to the landowner over “mitigation works” in September 2013.

It also said a new clearing measuring seven hectares had been spotted near the first site.