File Photo: A ground team floods a burning area.

KUCHING: Sarawak is aiming for zero open burning and less haze during dry weather next year following stringent laws on open burning.

Natural Resources and Environmental Board (NREB) controller of environmental quality Justine Jok Jau Emang said this following the amendments to the state’s Natural Resources and Environment Ordinance passed in the State Legislative Assembly sitting early this month.

With the amended ordinance, the new penalty for illegal open burning has been increased from a fine of RM20,000 or three years’ jail to RM100,000 or five years’ jail.

For subsequent offences, offenders will face a further fine not exceeding RM1,000 per day.

Justine said NREB had been successful in reducing illegal open burning activities in the state during this year’s haze situation in August and September.

File Photo: A ground team floods a burning area.

He said NREB was able to locate the whereabouts of the open burning based on satellite images and took immediate action against the perpetrators.

On the amended ordinance, Justine said it was now mandatory for commercial plantation owners to apply for permit from NREB to do open burning. 

“Before the approval of the permit we (NREB) will then make assessment to ensure that necessary preparations (equipment) and precautionary measures are taken as well as enough manpower to control the fire,” said Justine.

Justine explained there was no need for padi planters and smallholders to apply for the permit as they would be given blanket permit throughout the year to conduct open burning in their farm.

“Only when the haze is thick and the API is high then NREB will impose total ban on open burning, which padi planters and smallholders must abide to.

“That is the mechanism to protect the padi planters and smallholders,” added Justine.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan when tabling the Bill in DUN said the increased penalties would serve as a more effective deterrent against environmental offences.

Awang Tengah said this amendment aimed to minimise haze pollution from local sources and is consistent with the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certification requirement for smallholders to comply with local environmental regulations. 

However, he said this would not affect traditional slash-and-burn farming practised by Sarawak’s rural communities.