Ejected from centuries-old home for dam project, Pahang orang asli sue TNB

Jeffry Hassan (right) said the villagers who have been displaced from their homes in 7,600 hectares of ancestral land number over 1,000 people or 300 families.
Jeffry Hassan (right) said the villagers who have been displaced from their homes in 7,600 hectares of ancestral land number over 1,000 people or 300 families.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 18 — After being forced to leave their centuries-old home in Pahang to make way for a hydroelectric project, a group of orang asli villagers have filed a lawsuit against Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), hoping to uphold their land rights as natives.

According to Pos Lanai villager Jeffry Hassan, the villagers who have been displaced from their homes in 7,600 hectares of ancestral land number over 1,000 people or 300 families.

“The power that will be generated is only 130MW, very small, not worth it when compared with the taking of the land as large as that,” Jeffry, who is one of the 11 villagers suing, told reporters here.

Jeffry said the villagers had been living on the land, which they rely on for their livelihood for centuries and even before the British colonial days.

According to the statement of claim made available to the media, the Pos Lanai villagers said they hold the native land title rights, ownership rights and usufructuary right or right to enjoy the produce of the land that has been passed down through generations since prehistoric times.

The court document claimed that the Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli (JAKOA) director-general had allegedly fraudulently assured the Pos Lanai villagers that their rights on their land would not be affected by their shift to the new Pantos settlement.

The Jakoa director-general had allegedly made the verbal guaranteed both in his official post and as an agent of TNB, the villagers claimed.

The Pos Lanai villagers were moved to the new settlement in 2012, but were told a year later by TNB that it had received permission from the state government for the Telom dam — which meant that the villagers were permanently resettled and would not be allowed to use their land.

The villagers near Kuala Lipis are now suing over the alleged removal of their rights and violation of laws and constitutional rights meant to safeguard their rights over the land.

They are claiming that the Jakoa director-general had conspired with TNB to deceive the villagers, also claiming that the power producer had trespassed their land to carry out various works including drilling into the land and detonating the rocks there.

Lawyer Yudistra Darma Dorai said the villagers are seeking a court declaration that the land is a native land belonging to the villagers or alternatively that the Pahang state government is holding it on trust for the villagers.

They are also seeking for TNB to stop works on the villagers’ land and are claiming for damages, the lawyer said.

The statement of claim said the villagers are expected to lose their livelihood from the collection and planting of resources in the forest, traditional herbs, clean water source, burial lands, as well as their rights to live under Article 9 of the Federal Constitution.

Case management for the lawsuit has been fixed for July 9 before High Court judge Datuk Noraini Abdul Rahman, the lawyer said.

The lawyer also said a temporary injunction will be filed to ask the court to stop TNB from carrying out any works on the land pending the suit.

The suit was filed on April 17 against TNB, JAKOA, Pahang state government and the government of Malaysia.

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