(From the Star Online)
By Tan Cheng Li
On maps, it shows up as a tree-covered region. The Relai Forest Reserve, to be exact. But what is seen from the air is an expanse of rubber and oil palm trees, broken up in parts by soaring limestone outcrops.
Through the years, pieces of the reserve in the hinterland of Kelantan, in the area called Chiku, have been given away for agriculture or encroached upon. With the forest landscape already destroyed, the limestone hills are the only wild areas left – the only refuge for whatever flora and fauna that remain. And yet, these too, might soon be gone.
The country’s biggest cement clinker plant is set to come up there, at a site some 30km from Gua Musang. The company, ASN Cement, intends to quarry the limestone karst which locals call Chiku 7, for raw materials to produce cement clinker.
The project appears to be a replacement for a similar one in Merapoh, Pahang, which was abandoned two years ago following public protests and the discovery of extensive cave systems, new species of geckos and rare plants.
The same scenario is unfolding in Chiku now. Caving enthusiasts have found unique cave formations and archaeological remnants, while scientists have found rare and new species, which all make the Chiku karsts worth preserving.
But will these new information be enough to convince the Kelantan Government to pull out from the project to produce 10,000 tonnes of clinker cement a day?
Limestone hills versus cement factory
In mid-February, Mentri Besar Datuk Ahmad Yakob led the ground-breaking ceremony for the cement plant. Nevertheless, the detailed environmental impact assessment on the project has yet to be approved. It is still being vetted by a panel of experts put together by the Department of Environment. Read more