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Lembah Bujang fiasco: ‘Sack the Heritage Commissioner’

lembah bujang waytha nadarajahBUJANG VALLEY: Hindraf wants Heritage Commissioner Zuraina Abdul Majid to be sacked for failing to gazette, protect, preserve and conserve an ancient Hindu temple tomb (candi) structure in the historical Bujang Valley site, demolished by a developer a month ago. Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Senator P Waythamoorthy slammed Zuraina’s failure as “absolute negligence and collapse of statutory duties”, deserving immediate expulsion.

The Hindraf national chairman also called for developer, Saujana Sdn Bhd, to be charged for destroying a public heritage property and national treasure.

Waytharmoorthy pointed out that the demolished temple site was among some 90 temple tombs unearthed at ancient civilisation sites by archaeological research works started way back in 1930s.

He pointed out that a proposal had been submitted in 1987 under a working paper entitled: Bujang Valley and Kuala Kedah Fort – Proposals for a Master Plan, by John Sanday for Unesco’s World Heritage Listing.

The working paper was initiated under the government’s operational action for the safeguarding of immovable cultural heritage and its reintegration into modern life.

Since a proposal had been submitted to Unesco, Waythamoorthy said the Commissioner of Heritage should have exercised his or her vested power under the National Heritage Act (NHA) 2005 to inspect, survey, investigate and carry out necessary work to determine the designation of the site as a heritage site.

Submitted for heritage status 26 years ago

Waythamoorthy said the Commissioner should have made an Interim Protection Order under Section 33 of NHA 2005 to preserve and conserve the whole site.

Under Section 33, any person who contravenes an Interim Protection Order commits an offence.

Section 33 states: Upon a notice being served on the owner of a site, the Commissioner may, with the concurrence of the State Authority, make an Interim Protection Order in relation to a site if in the opinion of the Commissioner it is necessary to do so for the purpose of conservation and preservation of the site.

“The Commissioner should have designated the site which had natural heritage or cultural heritage significance to be a heritage site.

“But the Commissioner had failed to do so even though the proposal was submitted for world’s heritage listing 26 years ago.

“It is absolute negligence.

“The Commissioner’s services must be terminated.

“We cannot compromise on this,” Waythamoorthy told FMT after visiting the demolished ancient temple site in Sungai Batu Estate area here yesterday evening.

Also present were non-governmental organisation Bujang Valley Study Circle chairman V Nadarajan, Hindraf activists and local residents.

Housing developer, Saujana Sdn Bhd has reportedly demolished the historical artifacts of a 1,200-year-old Hindu temple tomb to pave the way for a new township project to be developed on the heritage site.

The developer claims they were unaware of the historical value of the demolished ancient structure that archaeologists and historians say dates back to the 8th Century.

Kedah Barisan Nasional government have issued an immediate stop-work order pending investigations into the controversial demolition which has caused an uproar among Malaysians.

Site still not gazetted

Minister of Tourism and Culture, Nazri Abdul Aziz has called on the Heritage Commissioner to gazette and protect the ancient temple tombs.

Waythamoorthy insists that the Commissioner has a public statutory duty to gazette all ancient temple tombs unearthed in the ancient civilisation site under NHA a long time ago.

“The tombs should have been gazetted by now. The Commissioner should have preserved and conserved all the tombs.

“It puzzles Malaysians on why the Commissioner failed to do so. “Obviously the Commissioner was sleeping on her job,” rebuked Waythamoorthy.

He also called for the developer to be charged under the same law for the destruction.

Under Section 113 of the NHA, any person who destroys, damages, disfigures, disposes or alters a tangible cultural heritage, without a permit issued by the Commissioner commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or a fine not exceeding RM50,000 or to both.

Offences committed by corporate bodies comes under Section 117 which states that, where a person charged with an offence under this Act or any regulations made thereunder is a corporate body , every person who, at the time of the commission of such offence, as a managing director, manager or other similar officer of such corporate body, may be charged jointly in the same proceedings with the corporate body, and where the corporate body is convicted of the offence charged, every such managing director, manager or officer shall also be deemed to have committed the offence and shall be liable to the same penalty as the corporate body, unless he proves that the offence was committed without his knowledge, consent or connivance or that he took reasonable precautions to prevent its commission.

“We cannot let the developer off the hook. He destroyed a national historical and heritage structure. The developer must be made accountable and pay for negligence and ignorance.

“The government shall not compromise,” said Waythamoorthy.

Historians like Nadarajan believes that Bujang Valley formed part of an ancient Malay-Hindu kingdom civilisation called Kadaaram covering approximately 1,000 square miles stretching from Kota Sarang Semut and Jeniang in Kedah to Bukit Mertajam in mainland Penang.

Located near Merbok, Kedah, Bujang Valley covers an area of approximately 224 square kms between Gunung Jerai in the North and Muda River in the South.

Nadarajan said the Malay–Hindu kingdom, which began in the 1st Century AD, was the oldest Malay civilisation in Southeast Asia, pre-dating Malacca. He said the civilisation was a Malay–Hindu kingdom until the 12th Century when its Hindu king converted to Islam and started a Sultanate.

“This is the birthplace of Malay civilisation in the country.

“The civilisation proves that the Kedah Sultanate is the eldest and oldest royal lineage in the country,” insisted Nadarajan.