BY DESMOND DAVIDSON
Published: 24 June 2014
Hundreds of Sarawak native customary rights (NCR) landowners during a protest in Kuching late last year against the state government's acquisition of their land. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, June 24, 2014.
Sarawak's Bidayuh native customary rights (NCR) landowners who have already lost thousand of hectares of land and are displaced by the Bengoh dam project near Kuching, were yesterday allowed to keep whatever is left of their ancestral land through a consent order.
The NCR landowners in Kampung Nyegol, Sting and Muk Ayun in Upper Bengoh, Padawan, were allowed to keep more than 8,000ha of their land not inundated and surrounding the dam reservoir.
The state government informed the Kuching High court it did not intend to proceed with the the proposed Bengoh Dam National Park, covering an area of 5,022 ha, and the proposed Bungo Range National Park Extension I, covering 3,572 hectares.
In return, the villagers must withdraw their application for a judicial review filed earlier seeking among others, to quash the state’s decision to constitute the two national parks.
State legal officer Lonie Pinda, who represented the minister for resource planning and environment, the Kuching forest officer and the state government, who were named as respondents, told the court that if the government went ahead with the parks, the rights of the landowners will be affected.
Judicial Commissioner Mairin Idang recorded the consent order and ordered RM2,000 to be paid by the respondents to the native applicants.
The gazette notifications to the proposed constitution of the two national parks were published in the Sarawak government gazette on July 25 and May 23 last year, and notice was given to the affected landowners in October.
When their former villages, together with those of Kampung Rejoi, Bojong and Taba Sait were flooded when the reservoir was impounded, the villagers in 2012 moved to higher ground within their NCR land to set up new villages.
They then took their case to court, arguing that the constitution and creation of the two national parks would affect their native customary rights over their ancestral land.
The applicants, through their representatives Simo Sekam, Bodui Dayuh and Atut Nyis, applied to the High Court for leave for application for a judicial review in December last year, and leave was granted in March.
In an affidavit dated April 22, the state director of forests, Sapuan Ahmad, said their rights and privileges will be affected by the proposed constitution of the national parks.
Sapuan stated that he had alerted the minister to the claims made by the affected villagers.
“The minister had not given me any approval under section 15(b) of the National Parks and Nature Reserves Ordinance 1998 to proceed with the extinguishment of the rights and privileges claimed," he stated in the affidavit.
“The minister has also indicated to me that he does not wish to proceed with the constitution of the two national parks."
The Bidayuh landowners were represented by See Chee How, who is also the Batu Lintang state assemblyman. – June 24, 2014.