The haze is caused by our own hands


Current deterrent sentences are not good enough and the authorities seem powerless to stop open burning in the Klang Valley.

Brian Martin, The Star

THE dreaded Klang Valley haze has returned with a vengeance over the last week or so.

Depending on the wind condition/direction, we have had extremely sunny weather with clear blue skies alternating with smoky, polluted air.

The air pollutant index (API) readings indicate that Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur have on occasion had unhealthy air – above 100 on the API scale – but Klang and Shah Alam consistently show figures above 100. Why is this?

We are quick to point fingers at our neighbours – and in years past, Indonesia has accepted blame for the raging fires in Sumatra, much of it caused by plantation owners who employ slash and burn methods to clear land.

But our own Meteorological Department had said that the haze in the Klang Valley this time around is caused by our own hands. If you’re heading to KLIA, you would not have failed to notice the peat fires on both sides of the road in Sepang.

I believe that the worst hit areas are the housing estates bordering Kampung Johan Setia in Shah Alam/Klang. These include Bandar Botanic, Bandar Puteri, Kota Kemuning and Bukit Rimau.

I drove along the Kesas Highway last Sunday to see for myself the extent of these fires. I can tell you now that those of us in PJ and KL are not as badly exposed as these housing estates.

The acrid smell of smoke was overwhelming. You could see flames and burnt grass and shrubs on both sides of the highway as you make your way towards Shah Alam from Klang.

It’s obvious the current deterrent sentences that we have are just not good enough.

The Department of Environment is empowered to bring perpetrators of open burning to justice and they can be jailed for up to five years or fined a maximum of RM500,000 if found guilty of contravening the Environmental Quality Act.

However, ask anyone living in this area and they will tell you that open burning in Kampung Johan Setia is an annual affair.

A resident of Bandar Puteri Klang, Prashaandra Ramakrishnan, e-mailed The Star and had this to say: “For the past eight years or so, the open burning at Johan Setia has terrorised all residents that are living nearby and the people responsible have continued to do so without much pause.

“I don’t blame the farmers at Johan Setia who are the hands that lit the fire to clear the way for a new batch of crop to grow.

“It is the owners that are money hungry and downright greedy that are finding cheap alternatives such as open burning to keep their pockets full at the expense of our health.

“I am a non-smoker, but my lungs are probably that of a heavy smoker solely because of this. The authorities don’t seem to be taking any strict action.

“This story appears in the news every once in a while and then it dissipates and yet the open burning continues. When is action finally going to be taken?”

To be fair, the Fire Services Department from Shah Alam and Klang had been deployed to combat these fires, but putting them out was slow and arduous work. With the lack of water sources/hydrants, firemen resorted to pumping water from ponds and other sources.

Open burning in Johan Setia has been going on for a long time and so far, the authorities seem powerless to stop it.

A check in The Star archives revealed that as far back as 1998, the then state executive councillor in charge of environment Datuk Ch’ng Toh Eng warned the public against trespassing into forest reserves and conducting open burning. He was responding to open burning in Johan Setia which had resulted in thick smoke enveloping Klang town.

“Although the state government encourages the people to grow vegetables on idle land, it does not mean we will allow them to simply cut down trees and set fires to clear the land,” he was reported as saying.

Nothing has changed. The fires in Johan Setia continue to burn. The DOE appears to be going after the small fry, the foreign workers and small-scale farmers who are caught red-handed.

How about the landowners? Surely the Selangor government is aware of who these land owners are. Bring them to book. They cannot be allowed to get away with blatant abuse of the system.


> Executive Editor Brian Martin wonders if the lack of enforcement against landowners in Kampung Johan Setia is due to political interference.