Kelantan looking to dodge legal battle over Orang Asli, say sources

Putrajaya says Kelantan’s move to grant logging licences to private companies has deprived the Orang Asli of their native land and resources. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: The Kelantan government is seeking to strike out a suit over encroachments into Orang Asli settlements in Gua Musang, thus avoiding a legal battle with Putrajaya, sources say.

One of them said the state filed an application last week to strike out the suit on grounds that the federal government has no legal standing to bring the case against the PAS-led administration.

“The state has also contended that the High Court has no jurisdiction to hear the suit on constitutional grounds,” the source told FMT on condition of anonymity.

Case management is on March 27 in the Kota Bharu High Court before judge Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh.

The source said the state government has appointed lawyer Khoo Guan Huat, whose firm is based in Kuala Lumpur, while senior federal counsel Kamal Azira Hassan will appear for Putrajaya.

In early January, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said Putrajaya decided to file the suit, the first of its kind by the federal government, to protect the native land rights of the Orang Asli.

Putrajaya is also seeking an injunction to stop private companies from encroaching into native lands to carry out commercial activities.

“The beneficiaries of this suit are the Orang Asli. The litigation will be cost-free to them,” Thomas said in a statement.

The suit, filed in the Kota Bharu High Court, named the state government, state director of lands and mines, state director of the forestry department, and five private entities.

They are: Fleet Precision Sdn Bhd, Koperasi Kijang Mas Negeri Kelantan Bhd, KPG Maju Enterprise Sdn Bhd, Ringgit Saksama (M) Sdn Bhd and M7 Plantation Bhd.

The Kelantan government and its agencies recently granted logging licences to private companies to enter the native land of the Temiar Orang Asli in Pos Simpor, near Gua Musang.

Vast areas of forest were reportedly cleared to make way for durian and rubber tree plantations.

In its statement of claim, Putrajaya said this had deprived the Temiar Orang Asli of their native land and resources and caused widespread erosion, pollution, and irreparable damage to the ecology and landscape of Pos Simpor.

“The Kelantan government did not consult the Temiar Orang Asli prior to granting these logging licences, or offer them any compensation for the deprivation of their native land and resources,” it added.

It said although the Kelantan government had jurisdiction over matters relating to land, forestry and mining, it was also bound by a paramount and non-delegable duty to protect and preserve the welfare of the Temiar Orang Asli.