Scarred by pollution, Jenjarom villagers protest against reopening battery factory

Topic: Environmental Governance

Related news: https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/592705

Coverage by: Malaysiakini

A group of Kg Jenjarom residents in Kuala Langat, Selangor have come out today to protest the reopening of a battery factory near their village.

Residents and activists gathered at the Kuala Langat Municipal Council (MPKL) headquarters this morning to meet with council president Amirul Azizan Abd Rahim to voice their opposition.

They then went to the said factory at Jalan Sukepi in the afternoon alongside MPKL and Department of Environment (DOE) officials, where they were given a tour by the factory management representatives.

Police were deployed to monitor the situation at the factory, which was previously shut down by the government after the previous operator was found to be responsible for lead pollution in 2019.

Another company Federal Power Holdings Sdn Bhd was reported to have bought over the factory and planned to reopen it, this time producing solar batteries.

Residents said they are concerned about the impact of the factory operation on local villagers’ health.

“The issue is not just about pollution around the land surrounding the factory.

“The main concern is the health of more than 9,000 villagers, including over 3,000 secondary school students, and about 150 kindergarteners,” villagers’ representative Mohd Nazri Afrizal told Malaysiakini after inspecting the factory.

Villagers’ representative Mohd Nazri Afrizal

Nazri said he and others were shocked and disappointed that the state government has approved the factory to operate without listening to or caring about local villagers’ grievances.

“We are only invited here like a statue, whether or not we came, the factory had already been approved.

“Maybe the Selangor government thought the villagers’ health was not an important issue,” he lamented.

Heated argument between factory management and locals

During the inspection of the factory, representatives from the management crossed words with Nazri and members of Kuala Langat Environmental Action Association over the safety of the factory.

The management argued that they had exercised due diligence to ensure no harm would be done to the environment in their application for an operating license to MPKL and said they should be given a chance to prove themselves.

The villagers, however, did not receive the explanation well, doubting the capacity of the factory operator, and also repeatedly argued with MPKL officials at the scene regarding their approval for the factory to operate.

Many machines from the previous operator were seen still in place during the inspection, which the new operator promised to remove soon.

MPKL licensing department chief Nordila Yasir defended the issuance of the operating license to the new factory operator.

She promised that once the current operator has removed all the old machinery, many of which were against DOE regulations, and properly set up the factory, villagers would be invited to inspect the factory again.

“We will ask the factory operator to do an engagement after this and villagers will be allowed to inspect (the factory),” Nordila told the media.


Memorandum to MPKL

Earlier, representatives from NGOs supporting the villagers handed a memorandum to Amirul in the morning after he met with villagers.

The memorandum demanded the MPKL revoke the operating license of the factory, stressing the poor track record of the factory in complying with environmental regulations.

The NGOs stated even though the factory now said it is involved in making solar batteries and no longer producing lead batteries, it does not provide assurance to the residents.

“The old factory did not disclose they were conducting lead smelting, but it still went on nonetheless,” the group argued.

“We hope the MPKL will not issue an operating license to this factory in the Kg Jenjarom areas or nearby residential areas.

“The MPKL should invite civil society organisations (CSOs) in the future to obtain opinions and views towards projects that could jeopardise human safety and environmental balance and impact national issues,” it said in the memorandum.

The group also wanted the council to release all study reports from government agencies in 2019 which led to the Selangor Economic Action Council decision to revoke the battery factory’s license.

The memorandum was supported by 11 NGOs including C4 Centre, Five Arts Centre, Greenpeace Malaysia, Misi: Solidariti, Parti Sosialis Malaysia, Persatuan Aktivis Sahabat Alam, Pertubuhan Alam Sekitar Sejahtera, Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam, Sahabat Alam Sekitar Malaysia, Treat Every Environment Special and human rights group Suaram.

The NGOs argued that heavy industrial factories like the one they were protesting should not be allowed to operate on a light industrial lot.

“Especially a factory that had gone against the law and polluted the surrounding areas’ environment,” the group said.

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