GEORGE TOWN: The Court of Appeal today sided with the Orang Asli over a long-standing land dispute between them and a private company in Bera, Pahang.
The High Court in Temerloh had in February allowed Elite Agriculture Sdn Bhd summary possession to take over the land at Kg Lubuk Perah.
The company plans to farm oil palm there, insisting that it was never Orang Asli land, it has been reported. The Semelai tribe, however, claim they have been there for six generations.
The Pahang government had given the land measuring more than 2,000ha to the company under a 99-year lease in 2013. The state has a 39% share in the holding company, Sri Jengka Sdn Bhd, it was reported.
In relaying the Orang Asli’s win, lawyer Siti Kasim said the appellate court unanimously allowed the appeal citing improper procedure in taking possession of land with a customary right claim.
She said the three-member bench consisting Lee Swee Seng, Hadhariah Syed Ismail and Supang Lian unanimously ruled in favour of the Orang Asli.
Siti, who is chairman of the Bar Council Orang Asli rights committee, said the court cited a provision in the Rules of Court 2012 which was wrongly used by the lower court to allow the company to take possession of the land.
“The court said the claims of customary rights must be ventilated in a writ action. It means that the Orang Asli have been recognised as having customary rights on their ancestral land.
“So, the way they tried to evict the Orang Asli as if they are trespassers or squatters is not the right way. Their rights on their claim under ancestral land must go through a proper trial,” she said.
Siti said today’s decision by the appellate court was thanks to the hard work of lawyers Selva Balan Sinnan and Ellaine Gan.
She said a contempt charge against the Tok Batin or village head Hajemie Din was also dropped.
“It is very important for lawyers taking up cases involving the Orang Asli to consult the Bar Council, which these fine lawyers did. This led us to a win today,” she said when contacted.
Siti said the government was not doing enough to protect Orang Asli villages, saying the villages are being carved out for protection, while their extended foraging forests are cleared out.
“In the bigger picture, this (decision) also helps to save our forests from being cleared. By working with the Orang Asli, we are defending our carbon sink in trying to defeat climate change and protecting our forests. It is all connected,” she said.