High Court rules it can hear Kelantan-Putrajaya dispute over Orang Asli land

Gurdial Singh Nijar and G Ragumaren (right) after the court ruling today.

PETALING JAYA: The High Court in Kota Bharu has dismissed the Kelantan government’s application to strike out a suit filed by the federal government over alleged encroachments into Orang Asli settlements in Gua Musang.

Lawyer G Ragumaren said judge Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh also ruled that the High Court here has jurisdiction to hear the dispute between Putrajaya and the PAS-led state government as it involves five private companies.

“The court has basically accepted our submission made on July 21 to dismiss the striking-out application,” he told FMT.

Ragumaren, who appeared with Gurdial Singh Nijar after obtaining authorisation from the attorney-general, said the judge fixed Sept 25 to hear an injunction application to stop the representatives of the companies from entering the disputed land pending the outcome of the trial.

“The judge only fixed a case management before a trial date is fixed,” he said.

Lawyer Khoo Guan Huat, appearing for the state, the state director of lands and mines, and the director of the state forestry department, said he was considering several options including filing an appeal.

“I will discuss the options with the state legal adviser. We have 30 days to lodge an appeal in the Court of Appeal,” he told FMT.

Putrajaya filed the suit in January to protect the native land rights of the Orang Asli. It also sought an injunction to stop private companies from encroaching into native lands to carry out commercial activities, as well as several declarations.

The case involves 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 state subsequently filed an application to strike out the suit on grounds that Putrajaya has no legal standing to bring the case against it.

Khoo had argued that the constitution, as the country’s supreme legal document, only confers jurisdiction to hear disputes between states and Putrajaya on the Federal Court.

Gurdial meanwhile said the apex court could only hear a dispute between the central government and a state under Article 128 (1)(b) if constitutional issues are referred to between two sovereign states.

“This suit also named other defendants (five companies), therefore Article 128 (1)(b) of the Federal Constitution cannot be applied,” he said.

He added that for practical reasons, there could not be two sets of hearings on similar facts.