Proposal to withdraw TOL of recalcitrant land owners to curb open burning

Khirudin Drahman

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By Nancy Nais

KUCHING, Dec 2: Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) will recommend to the state government to withdraw the Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL) belonging to land owners who refuse to follow the department’s advice and warnings in looking after their land.

The department is at wits end and a loss of words over their refusal to comply despite repeated pleas and reminders not to burn their land during dry season, even for agriculture.

The land owners have also been advised to monitor their land or plantation by placing security personnel to prevent intrusion and sabotage.

However, despite Bomba’s yearly pleas to halt open burning activities which could get out of hand and cause devastation, the department’s numerous public warnings and advice has fallen on deaf ears.

Many land owners do not seem to bother nor care about the dry weather notices issued and continue to use slash-and-burn methods to clear trees, stubble, weeds and waste from their areas of cultivation before sowing new crops because it is cheaper and faster.

However, there were also cases where open burning was deliberately started by saboteurs.

State Bomba director Khirudin Drahman said following the department’s investigations into major forest, peat soil and bush fires this year in Kuala Baram, Miri, police reports have been made against these irresponsible individuals.

Aerial view of wildfires in Miri. (file photo)

“Most open burning cases are related to plantation and individual agriculture land. In some cases, they are waiting to convert their land titles from native to commercial status, thus left as it is until it became full grown secondary vegetation jungle.

“Then there are those who purposely throw ‘fireballs’ deep in the dry peat soil land, causing massive fires which take firefighters days and weeks to contain. This is why we want land owners to be responsible and put extra security.”

The fires were started by humans and made worse by the dry weather and strong winds, Khirudin lamented, adding that plantation companies should put more effort into curbing this.

“We’ve advised them to cooperate with us in taking care of their land. If they cannot, or refuse to, we will recommend the above suggestion (withdrawal of TOL),” he warned.

Earlier in August, people were still conducting open burning in Baram despite the terrible haze which blanketed Miri city and air pollutant index (API) readings hit a hazardous point of 415.

Columns of smoke could be seen at Miri Industrial Training Institute (ILP), Taman Tunku, Eastwood Golf Course, Islamic Complex and Tukau areas.

Irresponsible residents and farmers were also conducting open burning to widen their gardens and plantations.

Similarly, in September, API readings in Sri Aman registered above 400 for the same reasons.

Apart from Miri and Sri Aman, state Bomba had to increase its total numbers of firefighters in the field for weeks to monitor and douse forest and peatland fires in Petra Jaya, Kuching.

Meanwhile, Miri fire chief Law Poh Kiong said several companies and individuals have been identified as culprits behind the major fires around the city and summonses were issued by Department of Environment (DOE) and Natural Resources Environment Board (NREB).

These cases are currently pending in court. — DayakDaily