Trash gets bigger, residents sicker while parties responsible point fingers
17 May 2023 09:04am
For illustration purpose
But hanging in the air was the smell of burnt plastic. Underfoot were piles of plastic and rubber, shredded finely to resemble earth, that were heaped over each other so tightly that the materials formed a hill measuring about 10 metres in height, covering an area of between two to 3.2 hectares (five to eight acres) to the east of Lay Hong Feedmill and a depot for heavy vehicles and machinery here.
Off to the side, at the edge of the rubbish dump, several mounds of trash smoldered, emitting smoke and God knows what else.
"It doesn’t feel good when I breathe. We live in the village - with lots of trees but I don’t feel peaceful,” said Mohd Masrobi Zakaria, a resident of nearby Kampung Sungai Serdang, coughing.
Mask askew on his face, he said his son’s worsening asthma led him and other residents, who were also complaining of breathing problems, to the illegal dumpsite earlier this year.
He added although there had always been some slight dumping in the area since 2017, it was nowhere to this scale and experts estimate the dumpsite contains 30,000 to 50,000 metric tonnes of trash.
Cleaning this up will literally be an uphill battle. But how will it be done and by whom?
It has become a stumbling point for all parties involved, with finger-pointing from the residents, who are demanding that the authorities clean up the mess, to the authorities, who recently discovered they could not easily clean up the rubbish, and the landowner who is blaming local authorities for allowing the problem to fester in the first place.
Under the Environmental Quality Act 1974, "no person, unless licensed, shall pollute or cause or permit to be polluted any soil or surface of any land in contravention of the acceptable conditions specified under Section 22.”
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president Meenakshi Raman told Bernama that anyone found guilty of polluting would be liable to a fine not exceeding RM100,000 or up to five years of prison. They can also be fined up to RM1,000 per day if the offence continues after a cessation notice is issued by the Director-General of Environmental Quality.
"The Department of Environment (DoE) should immediately issue a notice to the owner/occupier of the said land to stop the pollution and undertake the clean up,” she said in a statement.
However, that is easier said than done.
The land the dumpsite is located on partly consists of Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) reserve land and state land. Due to this, the Klang Municipal Council (MPK) as the local authority is likely responsible for cleaning up any land under its purview. In a statement, TNB said they will increase surveillance of the site via cameras and drones and put up a barrier to prevent interlopers.
However, much of the trash occupies land owned by two private companies Kekal Sejati Venture and Blossom Aspect.
At press time, Bernama could not track down the owners of Blossom Aspect Sdn Bhd - listed as an existing but dormant company - but was able to contact Tan Tiam, the owner of Kekal Sejati Venture.
Tan told Bernama in halting Malay that he has no intention of cleaning up the site, blaming local authorities for allowing the illegal dumping on his site to get worse.
"Why should I pay a fine? I’m not the one doing the dumping” he said.
"The cost of cleaning up would be higher than the value of the land. What can I do? Even if I cleaned it up now, it won’t do me any good. That land is useless now.”
He added, "So I let it be.”
PASSING THE BUCK
While the responsibility of the clean-up falls on the landowner, Tan was not the only one who complained about the illegal dumping. TNB too filed their own report. Over the years, residents in Kampung Sungai Serdang, Kampung Tok Muda, Kampung Tambak Jawa and Jalan Suara - about 7,000 in total - contacted MPK, the Selangor DoE and the district and land office.
"It has been a problem for a long time. Many have complained and filed online reports but there was no response,” said Mohd Rizan Poniran, Kampung Sungai Serdang village chief.
Residents said they were ping-ponged from one agency to another, adding that many departments were aware of their complaints but they were not informing each other. If any action was taken, they seem to be independent of each other.
For instance, the Klang land office issued a notice to the owners to clean up the site earlier this year. As for MPK, it patrolled the site twice between January and April 20 this year but did not confiscate any truck. In 2021, MPK stopped and confiscated six trucks carrying waste to the site. No vehicles were confiscated in 2022, with seven patrols and surveillance activities conducted near the site between February and July that year.
To complicate matters, the villages affected by the trash are located outside the Klang district where the dump site is. The kampungs technically come under the Kuala Selangor district so when residents complain to the authorities in Klang, they are often ignored. And when they report the matter to the Kuala Selangor local authority, they are told the dumpsite is out of their jurisdiction.
When Bernama reached out for comments from the departments at various levels of government, most were initially unaware of the dumpsite. A few confused it for some other site, while several thought it was the responsibility of other authorities. Some did not respond to requests for comments.
Environmental activists and experts said this is an ongoing issue when it comes to protecting the environment.
SAM legal advisor Theiva Lingam was not surprised by the inter-departmental confusion but did not think there was anything malicious afoot.
"Why aren’t the complaints reaching the right people? Are they being ignored or is there no capacity to deal with the complaints?” she asked.
Kuala Selangor Member of Parliament (MP) Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said each agency and authority need to sit down and work together to solve the issue.
"In a whole of government approach, you cannot work in silos ... because no one is safe until everyone is safe. So from that perspective, I don’t see why they should (not be able to work together). After all, they are under the same state government,” he said.
Kapar MP Dr Halimah Ali told Bernama she is planning to visit the dumpsite today (May 17)) along with officials from MPK and other agencies. Dr Dzulkefly’s special task officer B Sivabalan will be going in his stead as the MP is currently overseas.
Dr Halimah, who was a Selangor state executive councillor from 2008 to 2014, said there is a culture of "lepas tangan” (other people’s problem) in Malaysia that must stop. She added there needs to be an investigation into who is doing the dumping.
"This is not the first illegal dumping site that Selangor has got to handle and there is always some big guy there doing this kind of thing because this is not some kind of (household) rubbish being trashed,” she said.
Residents, activists and Tan have alleged that gangsters were present at the illegal dumpsite. This is one of the reasons Tan is adamant that he is not responsible for cleaning up the area. He said he had tried to maintain the land as required and stop the illegal dumping but was not offered any assistance.
He told Bernama when he first discovered the dumping in 2020, he filed a police report. He also sought help from the DoE to stop the dumping on his land but was told it was his responsibility to keep his land clear.
He added he did not give up till later.
"It’s dangerous to go there. There are gangsters there and we are scared. My employee went in to take photos to show me but they warned him to stay away. After that, I stopped going,” he said.
Since a large part of the trash is on privately-owned land, whose owner refuses to take action, cleaning up is a bit complicated. Should Tan hold out, local and state authorities must fulfill a process before they can move in to clean up the rubbish.
Selangor state executive councillor for Local Government, Public Transport and New Village Development Ng Sze Han told Bernama via WhatsApp that the local council will first issue a notice to the owner to follow the conditions set in the land title - in this case, the land was designated as agriculture land.
"If the land owner fails to comply within the allowable period given in the notice, Notice 8A (Section 130 of the National Land Code) can be issued and the local authority can confiscate the land,” he said.
Tan was unfazed. "Never mind. If they want it (land), take it,” he said.
The whole process will probably take months, if not years, to play out. In the meantime, experts said the priority is to block access to the dumpsite in order to stop the problem from getting worse. As for the residents, Theiva suggested they sue the landowner for refusing to clean up the site, which is affecting their health.
But for residents who have been waiting to exhale, for this to be over, it is akin to fixing a band-aid on arterial bleeding.
"I just don’t want any pollution in my kampung and I don’t want anyone to get sick from it anymore,” said Rohkim@Rahim Iska, Sungai Serdang Residents Association chairman. - BERNAMA
Ranjit Singh and Mandeep Singh are believed to be involved in the case since both were the tenants who had rented the house. - Photo courtesy of Selangor police