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Clementi, Dover, Kranji: Singapore’s grand conservation plan is to plant trees and destroy forests

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

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Yes, we love to plant trees. Since Lee Kuan Yew started the whole ritual, at least 10,000 saplings are planted every year since 1963 as part of the Tree Planting campaign. Impressive indeed. Singapore Clean and Green. At the same time, the bureaucratic itch to destroy any uncooperative or superfluous leaf of grass or tree that happens to stand in the way of development is as great as ever. It was the misfortune of a big part of the Kranji woodland to suffer this fate – showing once again the need for young Singaporeans to be vigilant or otherwise they will be left with a concrete and nature-less jungle of artificial parks and gardens.

Today Online reported on Feb 16: “Nature enthusiast Brice Li, who had earlier called for the conservation of Clementi Forest, had published a set of photographs on Facebook on Sunday (Feb 14) that showed a before-and-after aerial comparison of the parcel of land that he labelled as Kranji woodlands. One photograph, dated May 2019, showed a fully forested area. A second image shot this month showed the same plot of land with just a narrow strip of greenery — through which the Rail Corridor runs — now flanked by cleared earth.”

Very quickly, JTC Corporation – the agency involved – responded. It said on Feb 16 that it did discover the unauthorised clearing on Jan 31 2021. Well, what do you know! This was before the conclusion of a biodiversity study and an environmental monitoring and management plan, it said. The plot has been earmarked for the development of the Agri-Food Innovation Park. JTC happily named the erring contractor and said it had given Huationg “a stern warning”. All in all, 8 ha of land has erroneously been cleared by early 2021. This is a third of the site slated for the park which means the National Parks Board will be involved and will carry out its own investigations. We are waiting with bated breath.

Even as these investigations take place with a tightening up of the processes to prevent future “errors”, there are a host of issues which need to be addressed.

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Was JTC completely upfront? Other media, including Mothership, have highlighted inconsistencies in the JTC’s public statements. The agency said it found out the mistake on Jan 31 2021 and that the “erroneous” clearing started in December 2020 before environmental assessments were complete. But satellite images revealed that forest-clearing activity began as early as March 1, 2020.

Mothership: “Other evidence that suggested the clearance took place earlier than stated was a sign saying ‘proposed site clearance and earthworks at Kranji Road for Plot 9’ at the deforested land next to Kranji Road was up by September 2020, according to Google Street View footage.”

Also, I think JTC blatantly insults Singaporeans with its rather casual and dismissive declaration that it has given a “stern warning” to Huationg. Even if investigations down the road result in other more severe penalties, not just for Huationg but for other acts of negligence by other parties (if at all), a stern warning at this stage is ridiculous and unacceptable. What if other contractors made similar errors? More stern warnings?

Years ago, a leading developer mistakenly mowed down a heritage building on Albert Street. It was given a hefty fine, among other things. This was in the early “cowboy town” days when our city planners were rather free and easy in their obsession to clean up the urban areas or redesign the central district into either a Legoland or a Disney World, with scant respect for history or tradition. National Theatre, Raffles Institution, National Library, Adelphi Hotel all fell like trees in the storm of so-called progress. Even Raffles Hotel almost disappeared but was rescued by a change of mind following a very public outcry.

Singapore’s forests are our next most precious possession. The Botanic Gardens are a world heritage. The Central Catchment area are an integral part of life here – for its flaura and fauna and for its life-enhancing reservoirs. We can do without the high-maintenance artificial contraption known as Gardens By The Bay which are a white elephant. But destroy our forests and we will pay a heavy price in the decades or centuries to come.

Clementi, Dover, Kranji – we may soon run out of forests to rescue as contractors continue to get wrist slaps for killing Singapore’s heritage trees and plants.

 

Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

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