Hills, landslides, floods and damaged houses: What to do?


Hills, landslides and floods: What to do?

 The mega floods in Penang which followed the landslide tragedy, flash floods in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, and a shrinking water catchment area in Ulu Muda … it’s time our leaders paid attention to the environment.

THE news has been full of the related issues of hill cutting, logging, landslides and floods. The environmental crisis is back in the public consciousness, and we should seize the moment to find solutions and act on them.

Penang has been the epicentre of this upsurge, for good reasons: the mega flash floods and landslides over the weekend and on Sept 15, and the Oct 21 hill slope collapse in Lembah Permai (Tanjung Bungah) which killed 11 employees at a construction site.

Saturday’s overwhelming floods in Penang, which paralysed the island in so many ways and affected lives, property and activities, was a megashock not only to people in the state but throughout the nation.

But it’s not just a Penang phenomenon.

On Oct 30, flash floods caused massive traffic jams in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.

Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said the floods were caused not only by heavy rain but by developers of two projects that had blocked drainage.

A stop­work order will be issued if the developers do not take measures specified by City Hall.

Another threat is the logging of valuable water catchment areas.

The Ulu Muda forest in Kedah, which provides much of the water supply to Kedah, Penang and Perlis, is under such a threat as the originally designated Ulu Muda water catchment area has shrunk by 87% from 98,400ha in 1969 to 12,484ha in 2017.

The forest reserve was the most important water catchment area in the Northern Corridor Economic Region but timber production there was growing because Kedah depended on logging as a source of income, said Penang Water Supply Corporation CEO Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa ( The Star, Oct 27).

He suggested that the federal government compensate Kedah for gazetting and preserving Ulu Muda as a water catchment area, noting that the Muda Dam provided 80% of the daily raw water needs for Kedah.

Jaseni issued this stark warning: when logging affects the Muda Dam’s ability to store sufficient water, all three states would face a water crisis in the next dry season.

In Penang, the debate on the floods and the tragic landslide has continued non­stop and moved last week to the State Assembly.

The clearest explanation of the worsening flood situation that I have heard was the presentation by scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng at the Penang Forum event on Oct 29.

 

A former Universiti Sains Malaysia academic who then worked in international agencies including the International Rice Research Institute, Dr Kam said there were seven main causes of floods in Penang:

  • > Increasingly heavy rainfall; 
  • > Expansion of impermeable surface area;
  • > Eroded soil and landslides increase the sediment load in surface runoffs;
  • > Debris that clogs up waterways; 
  • > Accumulation of surface flow downstream;
  • > Limited capacity to channel off discharge; and
  • > High tides slow down discharge to the sea.

She provided historical and current data to show that flash floods are happening more frequently and with more adverse effects, even with lower rainfall levels. With higher rainfall expected in future, the situation can be expected to significantly worsen.

Dr Kam focused on expansion of impermeable surface area (caused by ill­ planned development and replacing natural ground cover such as hills, fields and trees that act as a water ­absorbing sponge) and soil erosion and landslides (caused by cutting and development in hill areas) as two factors that need special attention.

She quoted Datuk Kam U Tee, the Penang Water Authority general manager (1973~­90), as having correctly explained the Penang floods of October 2008, as follows: the floods were caused by conversion of the Paya Terubong and Bayan Baru valleys into “concrete aprons that do not retain water. The water immediately flows into streams causing flash floods even with moderate rainfall. Because of hill­cutting activities, the flowing water causes erosion of the slopes which carries mud and silt into the river beds”. ( The Star, Oct 24, 2008).

Flood mitigation and flood prevention are two types of actions to tackle the flood problem, said Dr Kam.

Mitigation measures only tackle the symptoms, are costly and need public (state and federal) funds. These include structural measures (upgrading rivers, installing pumps) and non­structural measures (drainage masterplan; flood forecasting and warning systems; public education).

 

Flood prevention should be the priority as that would tackle the root causes, said Dr Kam, who proposed the following actions:

  • > Proper land-­use planning and development control;
  • > Environmental, drainage, transportation and social impact assessments should be made   regarding development plans, beyond individual development projects;
  • > Stringent protection of hill land and slopes;
  • > Stringent monitoring of development projects;
  • >More greening of urban spaces, including a system of parks; and
  • >Protection of riverbanks.

To take these measures, policymakers have to deploy a wide range of policy and legal instruments, and to adopt environmentally sensitive and ecologically friendly structural and non­structural solutions, concluded Dr Kam.

Another speaker, Datuk Agatha Foo, complemented Dr Kam nicely when she elaborated on the various laws, guidelines and plans that can be used to prevent the wrong kinds of development, to control and monitor approved developments and to strictly enforce the laws.

She also spoke on the loopholes and weaknesses of the laws and how to correct them.

Events of the past few weeks alone indicate that the number of environment ­related and human-made problems are bound to increase, probably many times, unless our leaders and policymakers give higher priority to the environment and to well­ planned development.

The paradigm shift should start now, as the alarm bells have already rung.


Source: The Star Malaysia
director@southcentre.org Martin Khor Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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Penang bald Hillslopes a “time bomb”


Choong (in white) surveying the deforested hillslope next to Majestic Heights.

PENANG MCA has raised concerns about the safety of the residents in Tingkat Paya Terubong 4, right behind the Majestic Heights flats

Its Bukit Gelugor deputy secretary Marvyy Choong said the deforested hill behind the flats, just a stone’s throw away from Block 1, was a time bomb.

“There are 12 blocks of 23-storey flats in Majestic Heights.

“I understand that many residents have already moved out, leaving only a few more, and we’re worried for their safety.

“The surrounding hills are going bald due to ongoing earthwork and the 12 blocks may all collapse during a landslide,” he told a press conference at the flats yesterday.

He added that the hill clearing work was done by a housing project developer, which is also responsible for the paired road linking Bukit Kukus and Bukit Jambul.
Credits – Slides presented by Environmental, health and safety consultant Aziz Noor, and scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng at the Penang Forum event on Oct 29, 2017
Aishah looking out her window to the hillslope which is just a stone’s throw from her unit

“We are not opposing the paired road project but we’re against high-rise projects in vulnerable areas that may endanger lives,” he said.

Choong said Jalan Paya Terubong was not safe as trees frequently fall during a downpour.

“It is also unsafe for heavy vehicles and they must be banned from using this road after the paired road is completed.”

Meanwhile, housewife Aishah Che Wan, 68, who is living at another apartment scheme near the same hill, said muddy water gushed down the hill on Saturday and Sunday.

“Some small stones damaged a few cars parked by the side of the road,” she said, adding that she now feared for the safety of her family.

“I hope that whoever is clearing the hill will take necessary safety measures to prevent any mishap,” she said. – Starmetro



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Penang Island City Council, MBPP councilor Dr Lim fed up change not happening in Penang


Stepping down: Dr Lim giving a speech at the council meeting at City Hall, Penang.

Dr. Lim tells why he walked

GEORGE TOWN: The only city councillor here who dared to go against the state government does not want to continue after his term ends on New Year’s Eve because he is disappointed with the Penang Island City Council (MBPP).

Dr Lim Mah Hui (pic) said he no longer wanted to serve because “the change in Penang that we want doesn’t seem to be happening”.

“I will remain active as a Penang Forum committee member. I will still speak up on public issues.

“I believe people in public offices should serve for limited terms. Perhaps it will take a fresher mind with new ideas and approaches to make things happen for the better,” he said.

Dr Lim, who has served as a councillor since 2011, also believed that the council should allow the public to observe council committee meetings.

“The committee meetings are where decisions are made. If people are watching the deliberations, then public scrutiny can help temper political interests,” he added.

The press and the public are allowed to witness full council meetings, but Dr Lim said these were formal meetings to confirm matters that had been decided upon.

Dr Lim is the sole city councillor out of 24 with no political ties. A former professor and international banker, he was nominated to MBPP by Penang Forum, a loose coalition of numerous NGOs in the state.

His appointment stemmed from the current government’s 2008 move to swear in councillors representing NGOs. Four such councillors were initially appointed but since 2012, although the official NGO councillors still stand at four, only Dr Lim is known to come strictly from civil society.

He made his maverick nature clear less than a year after being a councillor when he joined a group of 30 people to publicly protest against his own council outside City Hall months after being appointed.

In March this year, he was involved in a heated exchange with Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng during an NGO dialogue session over parking woes, road-widening projects and the council enforcement’s car-towing figures.

In July, Dr Lim criticised the state’s Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) and suggested an alternative better, cheaper, faster transport master plan.

A month before that, he sent a letter to Unesco expressing fears that the PTMP would jeopardise George Town’s World Heritage Site status.

Throughout his tenure in MBPP, Dr Lim has been called a liar, back-stabber and betrayer of the state government by local politicians. NGO members, however, hold him in high regard.

“Nobody can live up to Mah Hui’s standard as an example of integrity and representing public interest without fear or favour.

“He had been talking about stepping down for some time.

“Maybe he needs to take a break and we hope he will accept the post again,” said fellow Penang Forum member Khoo Salma Nasution, whom the group has nominated to take Dr Lim’s place.

Former DAP member Roger Teoh, who was initially at loggerheads with Dr Lim over the PTMP, said it was a shame that local politicians had painted him in a negative light.

“Something was not right about how the state was reacting to Dr Lim’s Unesco letter. I felt he was unfairly labelled as treasonous. If his concerns were heard internally, would he have needed to write to Unesco?” he asked.

Teoh had initially supported the PTMP and openly criticised Dr Lim.

He changed his stand after doing a Masters thesis research on car use in 100 cities around the world, which led him to resign from DAP recently.

Sources: Arnold Loh The Star/Asian News Network

Dr Lim Mah Hui to make way for new blood 

                                                                          GEORGE TOWN: Outspoken Penang Forum member Dr Lim Mah Hui (pic) will not seek another term as a Penang Island City councillor.

“I have declined to be nominated for the reappointment as a councillor next year. I have served six years.

“I think I have served long enough and we need new blood and new people to take up the cause,” he said at the council’s monthly meeting yesterday.

He later told a press conference that Penang Forum suggested Khoo Salma Nasution, the forum’s steering committee member and Penang Heritage Trust vice-president, as his replacement.

“We have nominated Khoo as the representative for Penang Forum and NGOs. We will have to wait for the state executive council to decide on the nominations.

“Nobody told me to step down. It was my own decision. Penang Forum wanted me to continue but I told them I had done more than my share.

“I will remain in the Penang Transport Council,” he said.

Dr Lim, however, said he would continue to be vocal and speak out.

He urged the Penang Island City Council to open its meetings to the public to promote greater transparency and participation.

“Section 23 of the Local Govern-ment Act 1976 gives the local council the power to do so.

“Members of the public can also be invited to sit in, possibly as observers, at the council’s committee and sub-committee meetings where decisions are made.

“This is the challenge I put forward. If they are truly taking about change and a new type of government, then they should do that,” said Dr Lim.

Dr Lim has raised various concerns during his stint as a councillor and forum member on issues related to hill clearing, land reclamation, heritage conservation and the proposed Penang Transport Master Plan. – The Star

Developers unafraid of Penang authorities, says activist group

 

CHANT cited the demolition of the 19th century Khaw Sim Bee Mansion and illegal hilltop clearing of Bukit Relau as examples of the developers’ fearlessness. — File picture by Bernama – See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/developers-unafraid-of-penang-authorities-says-activist-group#sthash.muMUgaNa.dpuf

GEORGE TOWN, March 16 — Developers in Penang no longer fear flouting the law as the authorities seem to be “toothless” in taking punitive actions, an activist group claimed.

Referring to the latest hill-clearing incident on Bukit Gambir and similar past incidents, Penang Citizens Awareness Chant Group (CHANT) coordinator Yan Lee said the developers knew they could easily get away with illegal earthworks or structural demolitions.

This was because the state government and the municipal council were not prepared to take stern punitive action against them, he said in a text message yesterday.

The council has come under fire in the past few days after a developer defied a stop-work order to carry out earthworks on the hill slope of Bukit Gambir in Gelugor.

CHANT cited the demolition of the 19th century Khaw Sim Bee Mansion and illegal hilltop clearing of Bukit Relau, commonly referred to as “Botak Hill”, as examples of the developers’ fearlessness.

Yan Lee claimed that the developers were fearless because they knew a contribution to the state heritage fund (SHF) “can do magic”.

A check by Malay Mail yesterday showed the developer had stopped work for two days on the hill slope, located behind the Gambier Heights apartments.

The council had issued the stop-work order on Thursday.

The hill was cleared to build a temporary 500m-long access road and fencing for a housing project site on the hill slope.

Trees were chopped down to make way for the road, while a lorry and an excavator were parked at the construction site.

According to some residents, the earthworks began early this month.

The residents also complained of pollution caused by dust, and noise caused by the frequent movement of vehicles.

Traffic management and flood mitigation committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow called on the council to take stern action against the developer for “jumping the gun”.

He said the developer should have waited for the council to issue a commencement of work certificate.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia urged the state authorities to stop the developer from clearing the hill, and to implement firm policies to protect the hills and greenery in the state.

It warned against a repeat of the “Botak Hill” incident.

An MPPP councillor also said the developers had no respect for the authorities.

“Even if the council were to haul them up for violating the law, they know they will get away with a token fine,” the councillor, who asked not to be named, said.

He cited a previous case where a developer completed a housing project despite the case for carrying out illegal earthworks pending in court.

Sources: Athi Shanka, MalayMail online

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Hills clearing in Penang: NGOs not impressed with mitigation work at Botak Hill


Video:

http://www.thestar.com.my/metro/community/2016/01/28/searing-queries-on-clearing-ngos-not-impressed-with-mitigation-work-at-botak-hill/
An aerial shot taken from the bald patch on Bukit Relau, George Town, during a visit by the state delegation and NGOs to check on the mitigation work. — Photos: CHARLES MARIASOOSAY.

Chow (left) being briefed by technical consultant Khoo Koon Tai during the visit up Bukit Relau.

THE climb up the steep track on Bukit Relau is an arduous one. And there is little reward now for those who endure the climb.

The infamous Botak Hill seems to be getting balder. It’s a sad sight. What was once a lush hill had become a wide open patch of brown. Now, it is a giant scar of boulder, sand and concrete. The developer General Accomplish-ment Sdn Bhd is carrying out mitigation work which it says will be completed in June this year. For now, however, the hill looks worse than it did before.

The trip up the hill was arranged by the state and led by Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow. Others in the entourage included Deputy Chief Minister 1, Datuk Mohd Rashid Hasnon, executive councillors, state assemblyman, Penang Forum and Malaysia Nature Society, Penang.

It was no surprise that the NGO members were not impressed with the mitigation work. The condition of the hill has deteriorated so badly. The only greenery in sight were patches of grass on the boulders.

The NGOs are even more upset that with less than six months before the mitigation work is completed, there seems to be no plan in place to halt the erosion of the hill or to carry out restoration work, which will have to include replanting of trees, the undergrowth and comprehensive hydroseeding.

Roads and drainage systems built right down the hill have destroyed whatever greenery there was. The explanation given was that the roads were needed for the mitigation work rings hollow. “How can you carry out mitigation work and clear more land for the so called roads for mitigation work,” asked a Penang Forum member.

There are metal poles bordering a part of the hill, and it look like some hoarding is about to come up. Is there any development being planned for the spot of the hill?

A spokesman for the developer, General Accomplishment Sdn Bhd said RM20mil has been spent so far for the mitigation work and the amount could rise to RM50mil.

“Why would you want to spend RM50mil for mitigation work if you are not going to do anything with the land,” asked a reporter.

“Well, we are open to development of the land if that is what the people want,” replied the project manager for the developer.

Chow was non-committal when asked if the state would reject any development on the land saying it was a “hypothetical” question as there wasn’t any application (to develop the land).

Despite the long explanation, the burning question remains.

Will the hill be restored to its old state and or is the mitigation work just the start of plans to develop the hill for housing.

It was rezoned for housing in 2012.

By K. Sekaran The Star

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Penang Forum tells Chief Minister: the unmitigated disasters on hill projects


The Penang Forum steering committee released the following ‘executive summary’ to the media during its meeting with the chief minister of Penang

The Penang Forum steering committee released the following ‘executive summary’ to the media during its meeting with the chief minister of Penang:

To address public concerns over hill degradation in Penang, the Penang Forum took the initiative in September 2015 to co-organise a public forum on hill development with the MBPP and relevant Penang state authorities.

But the council and the state decided not to participate in the effort and missed the opportunity to engage with the public.

In organising the public forum, the Penang Forum is non-partisan and has not been influenced by any other body or organisation.

The Penang Forum has not been misinformed. Its information and data came from two sources:

  • answers provided by the State Exco to the State Assembly sitting in November 2015 on the number of legal projects and illegal clearings on sensitive hill land between 2008 and 2015; and
  • photographs provided by members of public, resident associations, Google Earth satellite imagery and drone shots.
    The scarring on Bukit Relau has grown into an unmitigated disaster. Despite a stop work order and a fine against those responsible, major earthworks, including the building of road infrastructure, have taken place.

While it is technically possible to build safely on hill slopes many stringent conditions must first be in place and complied with. The present approach to environmental and engineering impact assessment done in isolation for individual hill development projects should be reviewed.

The Penang Forum calls on the Penang state government to comply with its own stated policies of prohibiting development on hill land above 76m (250 feet) and/or with a gradient greater than 25 degrees.

Special projects should be limited only to those of public interest.

We recommend that the authorities implement a holistic planning and monitoring system that takes account of cumulative impacts for the whole hill area under development.

We call for violators to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, including jail sentences and to be blacklisted for future projects.

We call upon the authorities to require all offenders to restore the damaged hills to their original condition.

Penang Forum steering committee
11 January 2016

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Penang Forum concerns over hill clearing and floods; the Declaration & Recommendation


Under fire over hill slope developments

Penangites upset with approval of high-rises on slopes…

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government has come under fire for the clearing of hills and high number of high-rise buildings approved on slopes above the permitted 76m and 25-degree gradient.

Environmentalist and scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng claimed that massive hill clearing from 2008 to 2015 at Pantai Acheh and Teluk Bahang endangered the lush hills at the Penang National Park boundary where the Teluk Bahang Dam is situated.

She also said the state government claims to listen to the people but went ahead and redesignated Bukit Relau, infamously known as Botak Hill, as a residential zone in 2012 amidst massive protest against the development of the hill.

She also decried the big number of projects approved on slopes above 76m and 25-degree gradient when the Penang Structure Plan clearly stated that there could be no development on such slopes.

Dr Kam was delivering a talk titled, ‘What is happening to our hills’ at the Save The Hills of Penang public forum at Dewan Sri Pinang here yesterday.

A handout distributed to the 300-odd participants of the event claimed that 30 blocks of high-rise buildings were approved on such slopes in Paya Terubong, 15 blocks in Bayan Lepas, 14 blocks in the Tanjung Bungah/Batu Ferringhi belt and nine blocks in Teluk Kumbar/Balik Pulau.

Universiti Sains Malaysia deputy vice-chancellor Dr Sharom Ahmat said hill development above 76m could be approved under ‘special projects’ if it benefits the masses but added that “bungalows costing RM4mil to RM5mil are barely for the people.”

In his talk titled, ‘Why are we here today?’, he claimed that public hearings seemed to be more of a formality as decisions were made before such hearings.

Environmentalist and engineer K.K. Lim, in his presentation ‘Are our hills protected by the government’, said the rampant development on the hills could see a repeat of the Highland Towers tragedy in 1993.

He said soil erosion due to rain and the lack of water retention because of hill clearing could bring a major disaster in the event of a landslide.

In her talk ‘Hill Offenders: Fine? Jail? Nothing?’, lawyer Datuk Agatha Foo said the RM500,000 and RM50,000 fines for violations under the Town and Country Planning Act and State Drainage and Building Act respectively were not a deterrent.

“It is merely a slap on the wrist,” she said, claiming that developers pay the fine as part of their development expenditure.

A declaration was made at the end of the half-day forum. It among others, urged the state government to comply with its own policy of prohibiting development on hill land above 76m or greater than 25-degree gradient and not to include ordinary residential buildings as special projects.

It also called upon the state government and Penang Island City Council to prosecute violators to the full extent of the law, including imposing jail sentences and to blacklist all offenders for future development projects.

Two PKR elected representatives were among those who attended the event organised by the Penang Forum which is a loose coalition of public-interest civil society groups. They were Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin and Batu Uban assemblyman Dr T. Jayabalan.

By Sekaran The Star

Forum Declaration & Recommendation:

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Save Penang Hill from the greedy


Uphill battle: A hiker passing by a vegetable farm on Penang Hill overlooking Air Itam.

Treasured heritage seems to be losing its charm to illegal farms and development

THE stall at the Air Itam market in Penang is said to offer the best asam laksa in Malaysia.

Rain or shine, it pulls in the crowd.

The ingredients for the dish such as ginger bud (bunga kantan), mint leaves (daun pudina), laksa leaves (daun kesum) and kalamansi limes (limau kasturi) come from Penang Hill, which is less than 200m away.

Farmers who cultivate the land at the hillslope sell their produce at the wet markets on the island.

The fertile hillslope from Air Itam to Paya Terubong is cultivated with vegetables and fruits.

Demand for the produce is so great that farmers are illegally clearing the hillslope to expand their farms.

About 2km from the market along Jalan Paya Terubong, there is a trail leading to a hillslope.

Lately, hikers and mountain bike enthusiasts have been using the trail to reach the 135-year-old Cheng Kon Tse Temple, nestled on the slope of the hill.

Travellers can see vegetable farms and fruit trees on both sides of the trail.

There are nutmeg trees, kalamansi lime trees, papaya and banana trees.

The vegetables include lemon grass, lady fingers and sweet potato.

As one continues walking up, a large swathe of hillslope which had been cleared near the telecommunication towers comes into view.

The bald patch can be seen from the Paya Terubong road below.

The slopes on Penang Hill have been cleared by farmers over the past few decades.

Such illegal hillslope clearing has been raised by environmental groups but there has been no firm action from the authorities.

A former Penang Island City Councillor claimed that he had provided pictures of the clearings to state leaders and that he had also raised the matter with the Consumers Association of Penang and Malaysian Nature Society.

“The press should continue to highlight the issue so that something is done finally,” said the former councillor who did not want to be identified for fear that the farmers might go after him.

“Penang Hill is our heritage. But no one seems to bother,” he said.

Besides Penang Hill, bald patches are also appearing on hills in several parts of the island.

Bukit Relau in Jalan Bukit Gambier has been dubbed “botak hill”.

There is also hill clearance in Bukit Kukus in Paya Terubong and Bukit Laksamana, a water catchment for the Teluk Bahang Dam.

More and more hillslopes are going bald because of developers and contractors who cleared the land without the authorities’ approval.

The clearings are done on weekends and smoke can be seen from far when the trees are burnt.

A large swathe of land has also been cleared at a place referred by hikers as level 45 station.

It should not be difficult to nab the culprits since there are cemented trails all over the hillslopes in Air Itam and Paya Terubong.

When The Star reported on Feb 14 last year that more bald spots could be seen, a state exco member said they had pictures of the illegal activity and that action would be taken against the culprits but till now, no one knows what the action is.

It is troubling that all this is happening under a state government which emphasises on Competency, Accountability and Transparency.

Penang Hill seems to be losing its charm.

Yet, the state government seems to be focused on mega projects and land reclamation.

At a state assembly sitting last month, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the Penang Island City Council was using drones to check on illegal hill clearing and CCTVs would be installed next year to monitor illegal earthworks.

The spate of hill clearings has prompted the Penang Forum, a coalition of public interest NGOs, to hold a forum on Save the Hills of Penang tomorrow.

Hopefully, the outcome from the event will reach the right ears.

There is a compelling need to save the hills from greedy farmers and developers.

Comment by K. Suthakdar

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