Developers lose strikeout bid against Orang Asli over hydropower plant in Gopeng

Orang Asli settlers from Ulu Geruntum, Gopeng outside the Ipoh High Court May 24, 2019. — Picture by Farhan Najib
Orang Asli settlers from Ulu Geruntum, Gopeng outside the Ipoh High Court May 24, 2019. — Picture by Farhan Najib

IPOH, May 24 — The High Court here today threw out an application by Perak Hydro Renewable Energy Corporation Sdn Bhd and Conso Hydro RE Sdn Bhd to dismiss a class action lawsuit by several Orang Asli villages in Ulu Geruntum, Perak.

The Orang Asli from the Semai tribe had filed a suit against the two power companies, the federal and state governments, the Perak Land and Mines director, and the Orang Asli Development Department director-general in April last year over the construction of a hydropower plant on their ancestral land.

In his ruling, Judicial Commissioner Anselm Charles Fernandis said it would be too drastic for the court to dismiss the Orang Asli’s suit as requested by the two companies.

“The matter must be allowed to go through full hearing,” he said, before setting hearing for three days from June 24.

He also awarded cost of RM2, 000 to the plaintiffs.

Perak Hydro Renewable Energy and Conso Hydro were represented by Mohd Fitri Asmuni while K. Vinu, Conrad Lopez and Lee Yoong-Uei acted for the Orang Asli.

In an immediate response, Orang Asli spokesman Wah Ngah Pili, 57, said the aboriginal community is elated with the court’s decision to strike out the developers application.

“We have been waiting for this for a long time. We will fight this matter,” she said.

The Orang Asli filed their suit on April 24 last year accusing the two companies, the federal and state governments as well as the Perak Land and Mines director and the Orang Asli Development Department director-general of infringing on their community’s rights by clearing 63 hectares of their ancestral land without their prior consent.

They are seeking several declarations and injunctions from the High Court to protect their ancestral land and stop the defendants or their agents from encroaching the land further.

Among the declarations and injunctions sought by the plaintiffs include a declaration that they are the legal owners of the ancestral land in Ulu Geruntum ― and that the defendants have no rights to damage limit or erase the plaintiffs’ rights to the land.

They are also seeking the court to order the private companies to vacate the land immediately, and compensate the plaintiffs for the encroachment.

The group also want the court to order the federal and state governments to compensate them for failing to uphold their fiduciary duties.

The plaintiffs come from six villages in the Ulu Geruntum area namely Kampung Sungai Kapor, Kampung Sat, Kampung Ulu Kepayang, Kampung Empang Main, Kampung Poh dan Kampung Ulu Geruntum.

According to the suit, the two private companies had started the project in Sungai Geruntum in 2012.