No new mining licenses were issued after an area of 4,600ha in Tasik Chini, Pekan was gazetted as the Chini Forest Reserve on March 13, 2019, said the Pahang Land and Mines Office in a statement yesterday.
The statement was backed by Environment and Water Minister Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man (above) who said that he welcomes the concern expressed by Pahang Menteri Besar Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail and his state administration over environmental sustainability and water resources in the Tasik Chini area.
"I also support the Pahang state government's commitment to not approve any new application for activity mining within the area, in line with the decision by the state government to gazette the Chini Forest Reserve area in 2019.
"The government approach is a strategic cooperation between the ministry and other agencies including the state government to ensure the sustainability of Tasik Chini and its surrounding forests were recognised as a Unesco biosphere reserve," said Tuan Ibrahim in a statement today.
Last week, Malaysiakini reported that the Pahang government had given approval to a royalty-linked company to carry out mining operations 3km away from the lake, prompting outrage from environmentalists.
The report led to worrisome speculations over water quality in Tasik Chini due to the deforestation and mining activities around the lake.
The Pahang Land and Mines Office said yesterday that 14 licenses had been issued before the gazettement and out of that number, only two were still operating.
“One license will expire at the end of this month while the other at the end of this year.
“State authorities are committed to ensuring that no new licenses will be issued in the Tasik Chini area apart from not compromising on the lessee or operator’s failure to comply with the conditions set.
"On June 17, 2020, state authorities issued an immediate stop-work order to 11 lessees or operators in the Tasik Chini area for non-compliance with the conditions of the mining approval," it said.
It added that there are eight technical agencies from the state and federal governments involved in the assessment of compliance with the conditions of mining activities, including the Mineral and Geoscience Department, state Forestry Department and Department of Environment (DOE).
Others are Irrigation and Drainage Department, Land and District Office, Water Regulatory Body, state Wildlife and National Parks Department and Public Works Department.
In addition, the Pahang Land and Mines Office also issued a standard operating procedure for remedial action due to non-compliance with the conditions for approval of mining activities in Tasik Chini on July 20, 2020, to all lessees or operators involved.
"They are only allowed to operate after all instructions have been complied with, including having to do clear demarcation, replant trees, register the use of machinery, be charged a RM250,000 guarantee bond and provide enforcement team posts.
"The state Forestry Department has carried out rehabilitation work and tree planting from Nov 18, 2019, to Dec 30, 2019, involving an area of 1.2ha in the Tasik Chini area through the Joint Rehabilitation Trust Fund at a cost of RM250,000,” it added.
Dispute of rehabilitation claims
It should be noted that environmental NGO Persatuan Aktivis Sahabat Alam (Kuasa) has disputed the claim that environmental degradation surrounding Tasik Chini has already been rehabilitated.
On its Facebook page, Kuasa posted satellite images, taken on May 30 and June 4, showing that the land just south of the lake is still barren.
“Some parties claimed that the area has been rehabilitated and reforested, and the photos that were previously circulated are old photos.
“However, the latest pictures show this is not the case. There are clearly mining areas to the south of the lake,” it said.
The NGO added that although 4,900ha at Tasik Chini have been gazetted as a permanent forest reserve in 2019, the reserve area does not cover the entire lake, particularly to its north, south and west.
“The Pahang government should take seriously the rehabilitation of this Unesco biosphere reserve and stop existing projects that are unsustainable, as well as gazette the entire lake and surrounding areas as protected areas – particularly as permanent forest reserves and state park forests,” it said.
Malaysiakini’s own checks via a different satellite imagery source found the area to the south of the lake to be scarcely vegetated. This stretches all the way from the lake’s southern bank to the Tasik Chini Felda settlement, about 5km away.
The image from the US-based Planet Labs Inc was taken throughout the month of May and combined in such a way as to minimise the presence of cloud cover.
When compared to images taken two years ago, in June 2019, it appears that there has been little improvement in the area.
However, there are some signs of regrown vegetation in other deforested areas near the lake, especially in the previously logged areas to the north of the lake.
Water quality at Tasik Chini
Tuan Ibrahim also repeated the findings of the Pahang DOE regarding the possible presence of metal deposits at Tasik Chini as raised by Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh.
"The DOE has always been committed to monitoring the water quality of Tasik Chini which has been continuous since 2005.
"There are a total of 15 water quality monitoring stations at different locations with a monitoring frequency of once per month for each station," he said.
He added that a total of 20 parameters are taken into account in the monitoring carried out at each station.
This included suspended solids (SS), biological oxygen demand (BOD), chloride, phosphate, sulfate, fluoride, chemical oxygen demand (COD), nitrogen nitrates, ammoniacal nitrogen (AN), oil and grease as well as E Coli and 9 heavy metals including iron, manganese, copper, nickel, lead, zinc, cadmium, arsenic and mercury.
"For monitoring for a period from 2016 until March 2021, the results found that the water quality was at a clean and safe level for all aquatic life," said the minister.