Malaysian minister calls for Batu Caves to be listed as heritage site

Above: Hindu devotees gathering for the Thaipusam celebrations in Batu Caves.

PUTRAJAYA - Batu Caves is a Malaysian treasure and meets the criteria for it to be listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel.

He said that there were more than enough cultural, geological and ecological reasons for Batu Caves to make it into the world body's list of attractions.

"It should rightfully be listed (as a heritage site). I will ask the National Heritage Department to submit a bid for this,'' he said, adding that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had also supported the bid.

Palanivel was responding to reports in The Star which stated that the department would not nominate Batu Caves for listing as a World Heritage Site as it did not meet the requirements.

A department spokesman was quoted as saying that Batu Caves did not fulfil even one out of the 10 criterion listed, claiming that the illegal structures in Batu Caves were not in harmony with the surroundings of the 400-million year old limestone structure.

Palanivel maintained that going by the 10 criteria listed by Unesco, Batu Caves qualified on several fronts, citing the annual Thaipusam festival and monolithic limestones as strong enough reasons.

Last year, Najib announced plans to get Unesco to officially recognise Batu Caves as a world site to be preserved as it was a Malaysian icon of nature and culture.

There are now about 981 sites listed as a world heritage - 759 cultural, 193 natural and 29 mixed properties.

Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites with 49, followed by China (45) and Spain (44).

Five sites in Malaysia are recognised by the UN body - Gunung Mulu National Park, Kinabalu Park, archeological heritage of the Lenggong Valley and the two historical cities of Malacca and George Town.

Malaysia is a member of the 21-nation World Heritage Committee which decides on the inscription, referral or deferral of properties proposed for nomination.