I must thank the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment for taking the responsibility to reply to my queries about sand mining in the Kelantan and Pahang rivers for export to India.
In my earlier articles, I have raised a number of questions about sand mining for export in these two rivers.
I have raised questions about whether the companies involved in sand mining had obtained their permits from the relevant government departments, details about the companies and whether there was an open tender exercise, the individuals involved and why there was need to export sand to India.
The ministry in its reply said that careful studies were conducted by the DOE (Department of Environment) and DID (Depart of Drainage and Irrigation) before permits were given to the two companies. The reason why sand was being exported to India was merely to facilitate the dredging of the estuaries of the two rivers to remove the heavy silt.
The ministry’s response gives an impression that the export of sand was merely incidental and not the main objective of sand mining in these two rivers. Moreover, since sand was quite cheap in Malaysia there was no reason why the government could not export it for economic gains.
The ministry said that my allegations that the sand was mined without any environmental clearance were not true. Since the ministry was the “guardian of natural resources” of the country, there was no way that it would allow commercial exploitation of natural resources that might degrade the environment.
Finally, the ministry said that the respective state governments should also reply to my allegations about sand mining in the rivers. It further added that it would not entertain any further questions from me about sand mining in these two states.
Although I am happy that the ministry had the decency to respond to my allegations about sand mining in Kelantan and Pahang, I am disappointed that the reply given was anything but satisfactory.
To say that sand mining was done more to remove silt in the estuaries of these two rivers to prevent flood raises more fundamental questions about flood mitigation in these two states. If dredging is to ensure the removal of the salt, why was there the need to remove sand?
While the ministry says that the permits were given to the two companies for dredging after careful studies including deep water surveys, but was there public consultation on the basis of socio-economic surveys.
Environmental laws are clear in the country, but whether these were adhered to before permits were issues to the two companies remains unanswered.
I quite agree with the ministry that the two state governments must come up with explanations as to why these two companies were chosen. Were they selected on the basis of open and competitive tenders or they were given the permit because of their political connections? What is the link between these two companies with those in the souther states of India?
The real question that needs to be answered by the ministry was whether dredging was done to remove silt that had accumulated in the rivers or whether the dredging was done to mind sand for export.
The real question before us is: whether sand mining in the rivers was to remove silt or sand. Can I say that there is some deliberate confusion engaged by the ministry to hide the commercial intent of dredging the rivers. It appears that dredging was permitted in these two rivers not so much to remove silt or for flood mitigation, but rather to mind valuable sand for export.
I sincerely hope that I am wrong on this!
I really regret when the ministry said that it would entertain further queries on the nature of sand mining in these two states. Well, if there is nothing to hide, why the reluctance?