Malaysia planning to amend law to seize land if there are big fires

Firefighters putting out blazes at an illegal waste dump in Klang, which have caused air pollution in the area. Under the proposed amendment to the Environmental Protection Act, the Malaysian government will be allowed to seize control of land as lon
Firefighters putting out blazes at an illegal waste dump in Klang, which have caused air pollution in the area. Under the proposed amendment to the Environmental Protection Act, the Malaysian government will be allowed to seize control of land as long as there is a substantial fire.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia is proposing to amend an Act to allow the government to seize control of land where big fires are discovered, as part of its long-term efforts to curb haze from slash-and-burn forest clearing techniques usually linked to palm oil plantations.

The palm oil sector in top producers Indonesia and Malaysia has been facing criticism for deforestation and its land-clearing methods that send vast plumes of smoke across South-east Asia every year.

Indonesia has already taken measures to reduce the industry's environmental impact, with the latest being a moratorium on new oil palm concessions.

Malaysia and Indonesia produce about 90 per cent of global palm oil, which is used in everything from cooking oil and soaps to chocolate and cosmetics.

Malaysia is set to get tough on forest fires with its proposal to amend the country's Environmental Protection Act, Datuk Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the country's Natural Resources and Environment Minister, said yesterday.

Under the amendment, "it will not matter if the land is owned by smallholders or plantation giants - as long as there is a substantial fire, the government will take control of the land", Dr Wan Junaidi said at a press conference.

The amendment, however, is unlikely to be made in time to curb fires this year, he added, without providing further details.

"The haze situation this year is potentially worse as Malaysia is already facing moderate haze due to local fires, and the coming monsoon winds will only bring in more haze from Indonesia," he said.

In Selangor, parts of the Malaysian state nearest Sumatra have been cloaked by haze in the past week amid the dry weather.

The haze has been caused by blazes in a 9m-high illegal waste dump as big as eight football fields near Port Klang, where trash was burnt by scavengers looking for scrap metal.

Dozens of firefighters and officers are stationed around the clock at the rubbish dump that has been piling up for over two years.

"I have experienced putting out many fires but this is difficult because of the smell, and the smoke is rather toxic," said veteran fireman A. Selvarajoo, who has put in 35 years of service.

REUTERS, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2016, with the headline 'KL planning to amend law to seize land if there are big fires'. Print Edition | Subscribe