COMMENT | The Kelantan State Government must recognise, protect and defend native customary land inhabited by the Orang Asli and their rights as protectors of the forest instead of giving power to private companies to encroach into native land under the false pretext of increasing state revenue.
On July 31, 26 Orang Asli representatives speaking for various indigenous communities came to Parliament to hand in their memorandum to Sivarasa Rasiah, Deputy Minister for Rural Development.
The memorandum communicated their demands for their rights to be recognised, protected, upheld and promoted by the Pakatan Harapan government after decades of neglect, abuse and violations by the BN-led administration for the past 60 years.
Just barely a week later, thugs supposedly appointed by the companies entered Orang Asli settlements in Pos Tohoi and Pos Gob on Saturday and violently destroyed a blockade set up by the Temiars to protect their forest, their homes, their families and their land.
How can workers of a private company behave as if they are above the law? How did they take the law into their hands without fear of the consequences of their actions? Are there hidden hands involved, that would explain the sheer arrogance of these companies?
In April 2017, Pos Belatim was also "rescued" from the Perbadanan Pembangunan Ladang Rakyat Negeri Kelantan to be developed by Sigur Ros Sdn Bhd, a private entity.
The applicants, who are Orang Asli from Pos Belatim through the court order issued by the High Court of Malaya, had successfully reversed the state decision on this land from the status of “leasehold” to “Pos Belatim Aboriginal Customary Land”. The Kota Bahru high court had also ordered RM50,000 to be paid to the Orang Asli applicants.
In December 2017, four Temiar men representing their communities had successfully obtained a court judgment from the High Court Malaya, Kota Bharu, to declare that Pos Dakoh (RPS Balar) be gazetted as “Penempatan Tetap Orang Asli Pos Dakoh (RPS Balar)”. Areas surrounding this area was also gazetted as a “Protected Area” and therefore no logging is to be allowed in these areas.
Because of the determination and indomitable spirit of the the Orang Asli men and women to challenge the Kelantan State decision with regards to their rights over their native lands, today we have two remarkable success stories of written court judgments to protect the native customary lands and the rights of the various groups of Orang Asli in Kelantan.
Why must gazetting land for the Orang Asli communities – which should be automatically protected by the state authorities as land matters comes under the state government’s jurisdiction, as per the Federal Constitution – find its way to be challenged in court in order to protect and defend the rights of the Orang Asli communities who have inhabited this land well before any government was formed?
While the Pakatan Harapan manifesto clearly states that it is committed in advancing the interests of the Orang Asal in Peninsular Malaysia by recognising, upholding and protecting the dignity and the rights of the indigenous community by overhauling the Orang Asli Development Department (JAKOA) including that the director-general of JAKOA to be from the indigenous community, the government must also work to implement proposals from the National Inquiry Report on Indigenous Land Rights prepared by Suhakam.
This includes, primarily, the due respect to native burial grounds and land for agriculture, water catchment reserves as well for farming, which have been deliberately overlooked by Umno and BN for six decades.
In order for the confrontation between the logging companies as well as other private companies encroaching onto indigenous land to end, the Kelantan state government must recognise the rights of the Temiars to their settled and cultivated lands, and promise to keep the surrounding forest reserves and catchment areas intact. There must be no leave to log these areas at all, while allowing the Temiars to access to it for their customary hunting, gathering and spiritual purposes with no hindrance.
The state must also review all contracts and approvals given to private entities who intend to log in Kelantan, in order to safeguard the rights of the Orang Asli in Kelantan, and impose a moratorium to disallow all forms of logging in forest reserves that are inhabited by the indigenous Orang Asli communities there.
KASTHURI PATTO is Batu Kawan Member of Parliament and publicity secretary for Wanita DAP.
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