Ex-top judge Salleh Abas to represent Kelantan in govt’s suit over Orang Asli?

Former Lord President of the Supreme Court Salleh Abas. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: Former Lord President of the then-Supreme Court Salleh Abas has been roped in to represent the PAS-led Kelantan government in the suit filed by Putrajaya over encroachments into Orang Asli settlements in Gua Musang, FMT has learnt.

A source said the 89-year-old Salleh would appear together with lawyer Khoo Guan Huat when several applications are heard before judge Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh at the Kota Bharu High Court on July 21.

Lawyer David Ragumaren, who represented Putrajaya, confirmed that Salleh appeared before Wan Ahmad during a case management exercise on May 8.

Salleh was dismissed from his post following the establishment of a tribunal during the 1988 judicial crisis.

He contested the Lembah Pantai parliamentary seat in the 1995 general election under the now-dissolved Parti Melayu Semangat 46 but failed in his attempt.

In the 1999 general election, he was elected as assemblyman for the Jertih constituency. He was also a state executive councillor after PAS managed to form the Terengganu government.

He became a lawyer in 2004, occasionally appearing in the Court of Appeal and Federal Court.

In January, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said Putrajaya had filed 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, as well as several declarations.

The suit 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 had granted logging licences to private companies, allowing them 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,” Thomas said in a statement.

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

The court will hear the state government’s application to strike out the suit on July 21.

The Kelantan government is arguing that Putrajaya has no legal standing to bring the case against the PAS-led administration, and that the High Court has no jurisdiction to hear the suit on constitutional grounds.

Other matters include:

  • The application for a stay by the state government, state director of lands and mines, and state director of the forestry department to file their defence pending disposal of the striking-out application;
  • Putrajaya’s application against the five entities to stop them from entering the land pending disposal of the suit; and
  • The intervener’s application by the penghulu of Pos Tohoi, as his rights will be affected if the court allows the declarations sought by the federal government.

Putrajaya will be represented by Gurdial Singh Nijar and G Ragumaren, who have been given a special licence to do so by Thomas. Also on the team are senior federal counsel Kamal Azira Hassan and federal counsel Saffiyah Omar.