IPOH: An activist involved in fighting for the rights and welfare of the Orang Asli in Perak, revealed that the community was done supporting Barisan Nasional after the government had overlooked their well-being for far too long.
Activist and Koperasi Pembangunan Orang Asli Perak adviser A Ramesh said he began to care for the community after he was made general manager of the Perak Hydro Renewable Energy Corporation Sdn Bhd (PHREC), whose projects involved meeting and communicating with the community.
Ramesh told FMT that PHREC was developing hydro plants in 31 locations, along three rivers, including Sungai Geruntum and Sungai Kampar. Thirty locations had Orang Asli settlements.
“During my time in the corporation, I fought for two things — the benefits of hydro-powered renewable energy and the welfare of the Orang Asli.
“While I supported the benefits the hydro plants would bring, I did not want it to come at the cost of the livelihood of the Orang Asli, which is why I fought for implementation of many measures that would safeguard their interests. These didn’t sit well with my bosses.
“I subsequently resigned in 2014 and started the cooperative to work closely with the Orang Asli to make their lives better,” he told FMT.
The Orang Asli, he said, were upset by the encroachment of their ancestral land, the devastation caused to the forests, which was the source of their food, and the pollution of the rivers.
“Due to this, I would say an estimated 70% of the Orang Asli community is disenchanted with the Perak government. These BN leaders forget that the river gives life to these communities.
“Perak has about 35,000 registered Orang Asli voters and one-third are part of my Koperasi.
“They will not vote for BN because they have been neglected for far too long. Their very livelihood and land are being threatened.
“The younger Orang Asli usually seek employment in towns. They will return to their homes and talk to their family members who to vote for.
“The government has yet to preserve or gazette land for these communities and there is continued encroachment of their ancestral land and burial grounds. It is likely they will not vote BN this time around.”
Ramesh said the hydro project could pollute the forest ecosystem and pollute the river, which is their source of drinking water. Failing to gazette ancestral land to the community is forsaking their welfare, he added.
He said it was devastating that the Orang Asli had been arrested when they tried to stop any sort of land encroachment.
“They arrested members of the community who voted for BN for 60 years. They take care of the rights of the Malays, Chinese and Indians but totally turn their backs on the Orang Asli. Why?
“You also have the Orang Asli taking the Perak government to court. Do they not see that the Orang Asli are fed up?”
Ramesh was referring to the recent arrest of 11 Orang Asli men for allegedly obstructing a team of forest rangers from carrying out their duties at the Piah Forest Reserve in Sungai Siput.
A week ago, 35 Orang Asli in Ulu Geruntum, Gopeng, filed an application at the Ipoh High Court seeking an injunction to stop the construction of a hydropower plant on their ancestral land.
They named the Perak state government, the federal government and PHREC, Conso Hydro RE Sdn Bhd, the Perak Land and Mines Department director and the Orang Asli Affairs Department director-general, as defendants.