PUTRAJAYA, June 7 — Some 150 Temiar Orang Asli from Kelantan journeyed in three buses to the federal administrative capital here this morning in a bid to save their homes from being destroyed to make way for a RM5 billion hydroelectric dam
Gathering at the Dataran Putra roundabout near the Prime Minister’s Office Complex, the group was a sight to behold in their traditional headgear made from woven leaves and flowers as they sang songs and held up hand drawn banners, entreating the government to cancel the Sungai Nenggiri dam project.
“We ask the state and local governments, and Tenaga Nasional to cancel this project because it won't solve the flood, drought, and electricity supply issues that the dam is intended to,” Mustafa Along, chairman of Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Kelantan and the organiser of today's demonstration, said into a loudspeaker.
“We also want the relevant authorities to stop all logging and mining activities related to it because they are the main causes for floods and droughts in our state,” he added.
As he spoke, other members of the group held aloft the banners written in English and Malay that sought to convey their deepest wishes. Among the many messages, some read: “Cancel Neggiri River Dam, Enough Miseries In Our Lives”, “Why Should We Go To School If You Won’t Listen To The Educated”.
Mustafa told reporters that the group had come all the way from their home state in the north-east of the peninsula to Putrajaya because their past efforts to draw attention to their predicament had failed to garner response from the authorities.
“This will also affect wildlife habitat, which causes wild tigers to roam and kill villagers, adding problems to our daily lives,” Mustafa added.
He also claimed Orang Asli has not benefited from the proposed hydroelectric dam project so far despite the promises given by the government in the past.
Malay newspaper Berita Harian previously reported Energy and Natural Resources Minister Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan saying the government has compensated affected villagers for the Sungai Nenggiri dam project.
According to Mustafa, the government has only compensated each villagers RM12 for every tree they lost to the project, which he said is not enough for an Orang Asli family to shift to their new settlements.
Mustafa was not the only one to speak.
Several men who represented separate Orang Asli villages near the proposed dam project took turns to publicly express their worries of losing their customary way of life, such as foraging and hunting in the rainforests that has been home to their ancestors. Others who have been resettled elsewhere spoke of their difficulty in adapting to life in the new homes.
“They have started to build the new village but I don’t want to move from my hometown because I’m already used to here,” said Batin Majid, a 59-year-old village chief of Pos Pulat.
“Our tradition is finding source of income from the forest, but this will end if the government doesn’t consider our means of livelihood,” said Jimi Angah, a representative from another settlement called Wilayah Wias.
At about noon, the indigenous group began walking from the roundabout towards the Prime Minister's Office Complex.
A few uniformed police officers who had been keeping watch on the group followed them but the march was peaceful, punctuated by singing in their native tongue and lasted about 10 minutes as the group stopped outside the guardhouse where the demonstrators sought to hand over their memorandum to a government representative.
A government official whose name was given only as Faizal came out to meet the group and accepted their memorandum of objection to the Nenggiri dam project.
In the memo, the group asked the government to substitute the RM5 billion project with building smaller dams to resolve the flooding and drought problems as suggested by the Department of Irrigation and Drainage.
The memo also contained their concerns about the loss of their ancestral homeland. They said the dam would submerge four Orang Asli settlements, which are Pos Tohoi, Pos Pulat, Kampung Wias, and Kampung Bering, and flood 5,384 hectares of forest land.
After handing over their memo, the Orang Asli group then broke for lunch at some nearby stalls, but said they would head over to the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry, also housed in Putrajaya, and then to national electricity company Tenaga National Berhad's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur later today.