PETALING JAYA: An Orang Asli tribe in Johor today won a long-fought land dispute after the Johor Bahru High Court ruled they possessed customary rights to their traditional lands and waters.
According to S Yogeswaran, the counsel representing the group, the state government was ordered by the court to compensate the Orang Seletar community for the loss of their customary lands, based on their market value.
“The compensation awarded to the Orang Asli will be according to the Land Acquisition Act,” he told FMT when contacted.
The disputed land is at Kampung Sungai Temon and Kampung Bakar Batu, located at the Danga Bay region of the Iskandar Development Corridor in Johor.
However the Orang Seletar community is planning to appeal against the court’s verdict, he said.
“They would rather have the land back instead of the compensation. This is due to their attachment to their traditional territories.”
According to Yogeswaran, the Orang Asli intend to file a notice of appeal and a stay order to maintain the status quo until the next appeal date.
On a positive note, Yogeswaran hailed the court’s decision as a success as it had acknowledged that the community had customary rights over the land and, for the first time, over waters.
“The verdict is a success in the sense that the Orang Seletar have the right to the land without possessing land titles and non-exclusive rights to waters and seas.
“And the court also found that the federal and state government were in breach of their fiduciary duty owed to the Orang Seletar community to ensure the protection of their customary areas.”
Five years ago, 188 members from the Orang Seletar community in the Danga Bay region of the Iskandar Development Corridor in Johor filed a civil suit against the Iskandar Regional Development Authority and several other defendants for rights to their customary lands.
Other defendants included the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa), the Johor Land and Mines Department, Node Dua Sdn Bhd and Strait Bay Sdn Bhd.
The plaintiff was responding to encroachments into their customary territories by private companies and individuals, and also to the reluctance of the authorities to recognise their rights to the customary land and waters.
In the civil suit, the Orang Seletar, also known as Orang Laut, also sought declaratory orders in relation to their communal customary rights and interests in relation to the sea, sea bed, rivers, river beds, tidal inlets, bays, estuaries, harbours and subterranean waters in the Johor Straits.