(Story by Anthony SB Thanasayan. Pictures by Jeffrey Phang,)
DATELINE: KOTA DAMANSARA COMMUNITY FOREST, PETALING JAYA
WHAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE AN EPOCH-MAKING EFFORT TO PROVIDE PHYSICAL ACCESS FOR MALAYSIANS WITH DISABILITIES AND THE ELDERLY INTO A WELL-KNOWN COMMUNITY FOREST RESERVE HERE HAS NOT ONLY BEEN DERAILED BUT APPEARS VERY MUCH TO HAVE BEEN HIJACKED AS WELL.
THE SHOCKING DISCOVERY COMES JUST DAYS BEFORE A FINAL KEY STAKEHOLDERS WORKSHOP ON THE FOREST IS TO BE HELD NEXT MONDAY IN BANDAR UTAMA IN PETALING JAYA.
The event is reported to be organised by the Selangor Forestry Department and a funding agency called the Global Environment Facility - Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP).
The disabled and elderly access features were originally part of a carefully thought out plan to make the Kota Damansara Community Forest Reserve (KDCFR) friendly to all persons.
Once the special features were installed, it was to serve as a model for other forests and parks around the country to follow.
However, that will no longer be happening now in the 795-acre area.
This is because the funds for the disabled-friendly features that was set aside for the project is said to be now being used for something else.
|aNt & Jeffrey Phang (pointing)|
Petaling Jaya City Councillor (MBPJ) Anthony SB Thanasayan - and PETPOSITIVE President - had met with conservation activist and leader of the KDFCR Jeffrey Phang on two occasions this year to offer his qualified input on the handicapped features.
His role was also to show MBPJ's commitment to build the facilities.
The first meeting was to offer his expert advice on the disabled-friendly features at the forest reserve.
The second was at the MBPJ headquarters.
Thanasayan met Phang again, this time with Puan Sharipah Marhaini, the former head of planning, to explore the project further.
"I was shocked and outraged to hear from Phang that our collaborative effort has suddenly come to naught because the funds allocated for the project has been diverted elsewhere," said Thanasayan to PET+BLOGSPOT.
He was speaking from the forest site yesterday after his visit there with Phang to check on the latest progress.
"I am extremely disappointed that this has happened even after I had submitted a detailed list of recommendations of how the KDFCR could effectively include people with disabilities and the elderly," he said.
Thanasayan went on to say that he wasted no time in contacting GEF- SGP project leader Justine Vaz on the telephone.
She confirmed the shelving of the handicapped and elderly access.
She also claimed that a "better area" was selected for the disabled "elsewhere".
"When I asked her who made these decisions, she had no answer.
"She also had no answer when I questioned her if the disabled were consulted over the matter," said Thanasayan.
Although Thanasayan has been invited to attend Monday's workshop, he has declined in strong protest against the arbitrary exclusion of disabled and elderly facilities at the KDFCR.
He described the decision to exclude the handicapped and elderly communities from the forest as a prejudiced and shameful act.
"It clearly shows a total ignorance and condescension of the two communities as well as a primitive planning strategy," said Thanasayan.
A strong protest over what has happened is being planned by the disabled community.
The disabled friendly plans for KDFCR began in early 2006.
A canopy with barbecue facilities with even toilets and a bath area were built with the needs of the disabled in mind.
Sand pits were also included for the handicapped so that they could pitch their tents for overnight camping.
The proposed walkway for wheelchairs and the elderly - which has now been cancelled - would have offered the handicapped the ability not only to have a rare chance to see the forest, but also to immerse themselves in a green world with the walkway running parallel to a serene lake.
The KDFCR was gazetted in February of this year through an instrumental role played by Jeffrey Phang.
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