In Gopeng, Orang Asli decry silence as bulldozers roar on

GOPENG, March 1 — The residents of six Orang Asli villages here are distressed by the construction of a mini hydroelectric dam in Ulu Geruntum, saying it will harm their livelihoods and way of life.

The Orang Asli in the affected villages said they have lost half their fruit tree plantations after the hydro dam contractor allegedly cleared land for the project without their consent.

The affected land is along river banks that connect all these six Orang Asli villages, and the natives further alleged that this has contaminated the river that is also their main source of drinking water.

Their ancestral burial grounds, some of which are about a century old, were also destroyed.

A resident from Kampung Sat Baru, Uda Tiah Bah Adim, 53 said that half of his durian orchard as well as some of his neighbours’ was bulldozed by the contractor.

“This durian trees are my only source of income and now I have lost half of the trees,” he told Malay Mail when met at his village here.

He said the trees take between one and two decades to mature and fruit, and replanting them not would not address their loss of income.

The burial ground of Orang Asli in Ulu Geruntum, Gopeng was cleared by a contractor for the purpose of a mini hydroelectric dam construction. — Picture by Farhan Najib
The burial ground of Orang Asli in Ulu Geruntum, Gopeng was cleared by a contractor for the purpose of a mini hydroelectric dam construction. — Picture by Farhan Najib

Other trees and plants destroyed include those producing petai (bitter beans), mangosteen, langsat plus countless more herbs and roots cultivated by the villagers.

Uda Tiah also said the contractor was ignoring the villagers and their repeated pleas for the land clearing to stop.

“The contractor told us that the project is approved by the state government, but when we ask them to show the permission letter to clear the land, the contractor did not give us any,” he said.

The villagers said they have sent several letters to various government departments and lodged police reports over the construction, but Uda Tiah said nothing has come of these.

Another resident, Talip Baharun, 44, said water at Sungai Geruntum was now contaminated after the contractor dumped the felled trees into the river.

“How can we drink the river water now? Some of us still depend on the river for drinking water as we don’t have pipe water supply,” he lamented, adding that fishing was also affected.

Stretches about 3km long on the banks of Sungai Geruntum were cleared, believed to be for the installation of pipes that are part of the dam project.

Tommi Arisian, 31, said that their ancestral burial ground were also destroyed in the land clearing.

"Despite the burial ground has signs stating 'Tanah Adat Orang Asli' (Orang Asli customary land)', the contractor still destroyed the area," he said.

The villages affected are Kampung Sungai Kapor Baru, Kampung Sat Baru, Kampung Sungai Ampang Main, Kampung Poh, Kampung Padang Berliku and Kampung Ulu Geruntum.

On February 13, over 200 Orang Asli, including children from the affected villages, held a peaceful protest to oppose the construction of the mini hydroelectric dam here.

Sandrea Ng, a representative from Gopeng MP Lee Boon Chye's office who coordinated the protest, said that they have not received any response from the authorities.

“The project doesn’t seem to be stopping. The villagers told us that the contractor is still visible in the area,” she said, urging the authorities to act swiftly to protect the livelihood of the Orang Asli here.

The Organisation for the Preservation of Natural Heritage Malaysia (PEKA) also submitted a letter objecting to the construction of dam and sent this to 17 government agencies and officials, including Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Zambry Abd Kadir, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar and Perak Forestry Department.

Zambry and state officials declined to comment on the matter.