PUTRAJAYA: Twenty-three settlers from a land scheme in Terengganu, including four who have died, have been awarded a total RM5.5 million in damages for breach of contract and statutory duties.
A three-member Court of Appeal bench chaired by Suraya Othman said there was jurisdictional error and breach of fair hearing as the High Court had reopened liability issues that had already been decided by another Court of Appeal panel in 2017.
Suraya, who sat with Ghazali Cha and Lee Heng Cheong, also awarded the settlers, who are the appellants, RM30,000 in costs in an online proceeding.
Counsel Bastian Pius Vendargon, Abdul Haris Abdul Malik and Adrian Kumar Vendargon represented the settlers while assistant legal adviser Nazlyza Mohamad Nazri appeared for the Terengganu government.
Vendargon said the remaining appellants were in their late 60s.
The plaintiffs, as youths, joined Rancangan Felcra Bukit Kapah 1 (FBK 1) between 1978 and 1979 under the state government’s scheme pursuant to the Group Settlement Act 1960.
Each was given 10 acres of oil palm plantation land and half an acre of residential land.
In 2003, the plaintiffs were instructed to move to a different settlement, FBK 2, for refusing to take part in Felcra’s replanting scheme at FBK 1, and were given the same amount of land.
Following the 11th general election in 2004, they were ordered to move back to FBK 1 as FBK 2 was to be converted to a housing scheme.
However, the state disputed their status as settlers at FBK 1 and they were prevented from accessing their plantations there.
In 2014, the settlers filed a suit for breach of contract and statutory duties in the Kuala Terengganu High Court but lost.
They named the state Lands and Mines director and the Kuala Berang district land administrator as defendants.
In 2017, the Court of Appeal in 2017 overturned this decision and found the defendants to be 100% liable. It affirmed the settlers’ rights at FBK 1, and remitted the matter to the High Court in Kuala Terengganu for assessment of damages.
However, the deputy registrar did not award any damages, citing “inter alia” contributory negligence on their part, and the decision was upheld by a High Court judge.