Reporting, photos and graphics by Wong Pui Yi, Jotham L, Oh Shu Ann, Andrew Tan Wei Aun, Umashankari Yomarakuro, Keertan Ayamany, Adam Aziz and Eijas Ariffin. Published Modified 15 Jul 2020, 1:50 pm

Batu Caves, the 400 million-year-old limestone cave near Kuala Lumpur, is under threat of development again with land on the foothills cleared for what appears to be an unapproved development project metres from the iconic Sri Muruga statue.

Land clearing and excavation work, as part of plans to build a spiritual centre, risks impacting the historical limestone formations and the surrounding fauna, some found nowhere else in the world, an expert said.

Checks found two plots of land belonging to property developers Sunwaymas Sdn Bhd and state water utility company Air Selangor have been cleared for what has been described to be a spiritual centre paid by donor funds.

The clearing is within the “no development” buffer zone – 500m from the hill, which doubles up as a water catchment area.

Both landowners described the clearing as “encroachment on (their) land” and are seeking legal advice on the matter, while the Selayang Municipal Council (MPS) said no development plans were submitted nor approved.

 

Funds raised through donors to purchase land

However, the Sri Agastiar Nyaana Peedam Malaysia (SANPM) – the spiritual organisation which is building a centre there – said the council and Sunwaymas have been aware of the development since 2018.

According to a sales and purchase agreement showed by SANPM, Sunwaymas agreed to sell the piece of land measuring 1.14 acres for RM1.2 million to the SANPM.

A sum of RM120,000 was paid as earnest money but the contract was terminated as the buyer could not raise the balance of the sum.

SANPM said it had also applied for permission from Air Selangor to build an access road through land owned by Air Selangor, but this application was rejected.

In a 2018 video produced to fundraise for the project, SANPM said it intends to build an administrative building, a meditation hall, dormitories, gardens, and various other facilities. The total amount raised by SANPM is unclear.

A signboard by SANPM marking the spiritual centre site. SANPM maintains that landowner Sunwaymas Sdn Bhd and neighbouring landowner Air Selangor are aware of the development.

 

The group has since erected shrines on the land with the aim of developing the area into a full-fledged spiritual retreat. It has already made plans for future development and expansion.

However, media enquiries into the development have placed a halt on all construction works on the heritage zone.

Excavators were sighted at the Batu Caves foothills by Sunway’s land. Land clearing activities here were halted soon after media inquiries were made.

Home to unique species

The area, declared a National Heritage Site in 2012, is home to unique species which cannot be found elsewhere in the world.

They include the trapdoor spider which resembles fossil spiders of the Carboniferous period around 300 million years ago, the flatworm that lives in pools throughout the cave, and the rare spiny millipedes.

“Disturbance to the buffer zone will bring humans closer to the hill and have significant impacts to the natural habitat of the flora and fauna,” said Nur Atiqah, secretary of the Malaysian Cave and Karst Conservancy, when contacted.

This is the trapdoor spider (Liphistius batuensis) that is only found in Batu Caves and nearby Bukit Anak Takun and nowhere else in the world.

She added that unsanctioned development could also pose a safety hazard for rock climbers and others who use the inner city natural recreational area.

“There are a few rock climbing routes around the hill, one example being the Damai Extreme Park which provides an array of activities including rock climbing, base jumping, zip-lining, jungle tracking and cave exploration,” she said.

Limestone formations are fragile and development could lead to damage to foundations and falling rocks, that could cause serious injuries or death.

This rare spiny millipede (Ascetophacus macclurei) has a spine-shaped look and is believed to be endemic to Batu Caves.

Political issue

Developments near Batu Caves have caused public unease, particularly due to proximity to the world-famous Hindu temple, located in the limestone caves.

In 2013, the Selangor government revoked the permit for the Dolomite Avenue Park luxury condominium project near Batu Caves.

The revocation came months after then BN chairperson Najib Abdul Razak promised to revoke the project development order if BN wrested power from Pakatan Rakyat in Selangor.

This followed a public protest against the development for fear it could weaken the structure of the Hindu temple, located less than 200m away.

Visible signs of forest clearance and a disturbance to the natural rock formation. A tarred road takes the place of the previously cleared forest and connects the structures.

 

The 20-storey luxury condominium project, which neighbours the temple compounds, had a gross development value of RM248 million.

At the time, independent engineering consulting company G&P Geotechnics Sdn Bhd said piling work for the condominium project “will never cause harm” to the Sri Murugan statue or the temple.

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