A plantation firm linked to the Johor royal household might have cleared a forest near Endau even before obtaining the necessary approval.
This was alleged in a report by South China Morning Post (SCMP), which cited satellite images as proof.
The images showed that plot PTD 4118 was cleared “months” before consultants preparing an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report were contracted.
Locals told SCMP that the forest once housed elephants, barking deer, gibbons and hornbills.
The report added that forest clearing activities continued even when eventually consultants arrived to survey wildlife and sample groundwater.
Two weeks ago, the EIA report was finally completed and made public. By then, according to SCMP, the 3,775ha site had already been completely cleared and irrigation channels dug out.
According to the SCMP report, the EIA was commissioned by AA Sawit which intends to establish an oil palm plantation on the said land.
The company is majority owned by Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar and his son Tunku Ismail Idris.
The report said Sultan Ibrahim took control of four of the six parcels of land involved in the project – including the formerly forested parcels PTD 4085 and PTD 4118 – in April 2018.
The company, the Johor royal family and the Johor government did not respond to SCMP’s request for comments.
However, the report stated that it was unsure if AA Sawit, or someone else, carried out the forest clearing.
The report claimed that the environmental problems were already there in the vicinity that had led to conflict between humans and wildlife.
Locals told SCMP that displaced elephants had damaged crops and caused the death of one villager from Kampung Labong last year.
There are also complaints that existing plantations had made rivers unusable and sometimes tainted with the colour akin to “black coffee”.
Some of the activists interviewed by SCMP said the authorities must reject the EIA report and prosecute wrongdoers because of the activities taking place on forested land before the report was completed.
Under the Environmental Quality Act 1974, those breaching EIA requirements can be fined up to RM100,000. – Malaysiakini