Who raped and plundered Templer’s Park?


A file picture showing the 80m stretch of a hillslope at Taman Sierra which collapsed in 2009 causing a massive landslide along the old trunk road near Templer’s Park.

Because meetings where the alienation and de-forestation were approved are classified and fall under the Official Secrets Act, we will never know the truth. 

R. Nadeswaran (The Sun)

IN late 1963, the headmaster of the Rawang English Primary School was driving home after a game of bridge at what was then the Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur. Four miles from the town, C. Maheswaran had to slam his brakes. In front of him was a tiger crossing the road.

It was reported in the only English newspaper then, the Straits Times, which relegated it to a single-column story because sightings of wildlife, especially tigers were common in and around Templer’s Park, saddled between Batu Caves and Rawang.

About a week later, I remember sitting and listening in awe as Maheswaran related his encounter to my late father. The headmaster’s routine took him from his Rawang home twice a week for his bridge sessions at the club.

He spoke about his incredible luck anxiety, not his fright. I remember him saying “the tiger could do nothing to me as I was in the car” but my father tickled by asking if he would have dared step out of the car. To which, he replied: “Yen vambukku pohanam?” (Why ask for trouble?).

That conversation almost 50 years ago came flooding back as the prime minister announced plans for Batu Caves and the surrounding areas. But even as he was speaking, trees were being felled and land is being cleared in the name of “development”.

While the PM’s efforts for it to be granted heritage status must be applauded, he should also pull up those who have been responsible for the current state of affairs. It is not just the caves per se, but destruction of Templer’s Park.

Some background: In 1954, the Sultan of Selangor, the late Sultan Hishamuddin Alam Shah, declared that Templer’s Park was “dedicated by Selangor to serve as a refuge and a sanctuary for wildlife and a meeting place for all who love and respect the beauty of nature”. Since then, it had been a favourite picnic and holiday spot for locals. The natural forests and the many waterfalls drew people from Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding areas by the hordes on weekends.

Long before the North-South Highway was built, the trunk road linking the capital to Ipoh and the north was via Templer’s Park. A drive would take you through canopied roads with greenery on both sides of the road with directional signs pointing to waterfalls, picnic spots and other places of interest.

Then someone discovered that there’s plenty of money to be made in land, especially land close to the main road with the forest as a background. That was the beginning of the end.

In the ’90s, things began to change. Parts of Templer’s Park were de-gazetted, the trees cut down for timber and what used to be a serene environment saw the invasion of tractors and bulldozers.

Over the years, more and more land was alienated and fell into private hands and today, two 18-hole golf courses and scores of bungalows around it are standing monuments attesting to the rape and plunder that had been carried on with the blessings of the state government.

The biggest beneficiaries were state-owned companies like Perangsang and SAP, who were alienated large tracts of land running into hundreds of hectares. Drawn by the lure of infrastructure put up by the state and local governments, others began to take the route to fortune.

Land was sub-divided and small housing estates began to appear. But the sight to behold is a six-storey bungalow on the edge of the forest with limestone hills in the background. That mansion, it is learnt, belongs to a former Yang Berhormat.

The alarms and warnings raised by environmental groups like the Selangor Nature Society over the past years have gone unheeded. Successive mentris besar and exco members just approved the de-gazetting without even considering the views of the stakeholders, in this case, the people for whom the park was bequeathed.

The lure of profits for developers and a possible benefit for some of those who approved are some of the plus factors which prompted wholesale detraction from established principles and philosophies.

What other acceptable explanation can the lawmakers provide to placate the anger of the people?

Tomorrow, the finger-pointing will start as to who and how the whole fiasco began or unfolded.

Because meetings where the alienation and de-forestation were approved are classified and fall under the Official Secrets Act, we will never know the truth.

The middlemen, the cronies, the beneficiaries would be running to enlist spin doctors to “tell their side of the story.” They would want to sell you stories and story ideas of “the measures taken to protect the environment” or “the money spent on preserving certain sensitive features in the jungle.”

There’s no other side. There’s only one side – greed prompted the state to sell the interests of the people.

So, will it now be wrong for the public to demand that all documents pertaining to the clearing of Templer’s Park be declassified and made available for public scrutiny?

R. Nadeswaran is editor (special and investigative reporting) at theSun.