Tanjung Bungah landslide: Questions remain unanswered as state commission of inquiry convenes

GEORGE TOWN: Many questions are still left unanswered, despite a landmark move by the state government to convene a state commission of inquiry, following the landslide, on Oct 21 at an affordable housing construction site, in Tanjung Bungah, which claimed the lives of 11.

In a statement, the Tanjung Bungah Residents Association (TBRA) chairperson Meenakshi Raman urged the state to make the hearings open, in view of public interest on hillslope development and its impact on the environment.

TBRA together with Tanjung Bungah assemblyman, Teh Yee Cheu have been scathing in their criticism of the state government in regards to the dangers of hillslope development in the locality, having voice their dissatisfaction on the issue, one month prior to the incident.

On the terms of reference of the inquiry, Meenakshi called for review of laws related to the granting, planning, and approval of these projects.

"This must also include a review of the guidelines on 'Hill site development 2012' enactment, as well as ensuring sufficient capacity exists with relevant authorities, to effectively monitor and enforce any conditions imposed," she said.

TBRA also welcomed the statement by state Housing Committee chairperson Jagdeep Singh Deo that the state will continue to prohibit any new high-rise development on sites above 76m (250 feet) above sea level.

However, Meenakshi said they are perplexed as to how the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) had in 2012, approved the construction of 600 units high-rise apartments and bungalows on hillslopes covering 32ha, which are well above the 76m mark.

"Approximately 43% of these projects are allegedly constructed on slopes exceeding a gradient of 25 degrees," Meenakshi explained.

"In fact, we are shocked to learn that the state authority had in 2011 approved an applications by the developer to remove the hill land status under the Land Conservation Act 1960," added Meenakshi.

It is believed, the MBPP reverted back to the 2009 guidelines for what is termed as "special projects" to allow the Sungai Ara project.

These actions completely defy the state government's stance that hill lands must be protected, she said.