Preliminary reports from an on-going investigation into a deadly landslide in Malaysia that killed 31 people at a farm and campsite seem to indicate the area was not zoned for agricultural, commercial or recreational use, a senior government official told VOA on Thursday.
Dozens of people were buried as they slept in their tents at Father’s Organic Farm in Batang Kali, a popular recreation area about 50 kilometers north of the country’s largest city, Kuala Lumpur, when a landslide swept over the campsite in the early morning hours of December 16. The tragedy shook the country and has led to renewed calls for increased safety and accountability.
“The area of which Father’s Organic Farm was built had been determined as a No-Go Area. Therefore, the development of Father’s Organic Farm was in violation of the approval conditions of the EIA [environmental impact assessment] report approved to Malaysia Botanical Gardens Resort Sdn. Bhd,” the Malaysian Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Ministry said in a written statement on Monday in response to questions by VOA.
The EIA report was approved in January 2013 by the government to Malaysia Botanical Gardens Resort. Environmental experts say they are often required for large proposed projects in environmentally sensitive areas, such as forests, mangrove swamps, the seashore as well as steep slopes.
At a news conference Thursday, VOA asked Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad to clarify whether victims were sleeping in an area where there was not supposed to be any farming, business or camping activity.
“From the initial reports that we got with regards to the data from the department of environment it seems to suggest so,” Nik Nazmi said.
“But to make final comments I have to wait for the full report to be out,” he said.
Three Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Ministry agencies are investigating, and Nik Nazmi said he expects the full report to be complete this month. He also said there are “gray areas you know because it's a campsite, so I think that is the big question.”
Nik Nazmi pointed to separate investigations and reports being conducted by the police and local government. In late-December, authorities told state news agency Bernama the police investigation was almost 90% complete. So far, no charges have been filed.
Several days after the landslide, a member of the Selangor state executive council, Ng Sze Han, said Father’s had a permit to operate as an organic farm. He also acknowledged that the state did not have a specific license for campsites but said new regulations will be coming.
Minister Nik Nazmi would not answer VOA’s question asking if Malaysia Botanical Gardens Resort owned the property and if Father’s Organic Farm was renting a portion of it.
“We’ll have to wait for the full report,” Nik Nazmi said. During the past month VOA has made multiple requests for an interview to the operators of Father’s Organic Farm but has not received a response.