KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 22 — Senator P. Waytha Moorthy today called for an urgent discussion between the Selangor government and the agency in charge of Orang Asli welfare amid a row over the degazettement of Kuala Langat forest reserve land that threatens to displace over a thousand of the indigenous community and their livelihood.
The minister in the Prime Minister’s Department overseeing the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa) said the protection of the indigenous people’s rights — which includes safeguarding their welfare and culture — should be paramount, as promised in Pakatan Harapan’s 2018 election manifesto.
Waytha Moorthy pointed out that four Orang Asli communities numbering some 1,049, living in Bukit Kecil, Bukit Ceeding, Busut Baru dan Pulau Kempas were roaming in the Kuala Langat (North) forest reserve, which they see as their communal land, to earn a living.
“Although the planned development area did not directly involve the Orang Asli community, it has been their traditional communal forests since 1845 and was later recognised as a 17,900-acre Sakai customary land for them to produce forest products such as bamboo, rattan, herbal medicine, hunting products as well as the cultivation of palm oil, rubber, and fruit orchards, however, the area has shrunk over the years,” he said in a statement.
He refuted claims that the forest reserve had degraded and was no longer a suitable place for the Orang Asli to earn an income.
He said a meeting between the state government and Jakoa to discuss plans to develop the area should be held soonest possible for “a win-win decision” and avoid an unfavourable perception that the ruling coalition was no different from the preceding Barisan Nasional government.
Selangor Mentri Besar Amirudin Shari was previously reported defending the degazettement of the Kuala Langat forest reserve, claiming that 40 per cent of the area has become “degraded” due to fires and damages and is no longer the virgin forest it used to be.
However, Amirudin pledged to replace the degazetted forest with a “bigger area of the forest” of “better quality” at more than 1,092-hectare compared to the 930.93-hectare that it wants to degazette.
In his explanation, Amirudin also said the move will also benefit other developments around the area and to stimulate the economies and industries in the East Coast states, especially as the planned East Coast Rail Link route will go around the forest reserve.
The Selangor state’s proposal to develop 930.93-acres of the 958-acre forest reserve was met with stern opposition from the Orang Asli community who resides near the reserve, and environmentalists.
The Selangor Forestry Department had placed the notice of the proposed de-gazetting in major newspapers on February 5, inviting stakeholders in the district to voice their objections within 30 days.
Yesterday, Selangor State Development Corporation denied that the move was for the Selangor Business Capital mega-business park, explaining that the project is planned for the Selangor Cyber Valley in Cyberjaya instead.