Despite threats of arrest and imprisonment, 31 native Bidayuh families of Kampung Bojong and Kampung Rejoi, led by Tua Kampung Simo Sekam, successfully fought a seven-year battle against the authorities for taking away their native customary rights land to build the Bengoh reservoir dam.
The High Court in Kuching this morning ordered the payment of compensation totalling RM2.14 million to 54 persons from the 31 families involved.
“This is not only a sweet victory for us, but a special Christmas gift.
“We will slaughter pigs to celebrate our victory after a hard-fought battle,” said Simo, pointing out that they had suffered severe hardships in defending their NCR land.
He said the families were threatened with arrest and imprisonment if they refused to move out from their ancestral lands that they and their forefathers had occupied for more than 160 years.
'We refused to move to another place'
“But we fought on and refused to move out to another place. Instead we moved to a higher ground that is not going to be submerged by the dam water,” said Simo, who is the first plaintiff in the suit filed against the Sarawak government.
Lawyer See Chee How, who represented the plaintiffs, said a consent order was recorded by High Court judge Rhodzariah Bujang, bringing the case which was filed in October 2009 to a close.
See said the consent order expressly states that the Superintendent of Lands and Surveys of Kuching Division and the Sarawak government acknowledged and recognised that the plaintiffs and other residents of Kampung Bojong and Kampung Rejoi, together with the residents of Kampung Taba Sait and Kampung Semban, had acquired native customary rights to the land totalling 2,592 hectares.
He said emanating from the consent order, the two villages – Kampung Taba Sait and Kampung Bojong – would have privileges over the area described in the Bungo Range National Park.
The privileges of the people of Kampung Semban and Kampung Rejoi had already been admitted in a Bungo Range National Park notification published in the Sarawak government gazette in 2010.
See (left) said that by the consent order, the plaintiffs and all those whom they represented should not occupy land within the Bengoh dam reservoir area.
An amount of RM2.14 million deposited in the court for the payment of the compensation to 54 named persons would be withdrawn by them, he said.
See, who is the assemblyperson for Batu Lintang, expressed his appreciation to the government in settling the long-standing case amicably.
“This case could take months if it went to trial, as it involves at least 30 witnesses testifying. However, the Lands and Surveys Division and the Sarawak government have gracefully agreed to acknowledge and recognise that the plaintiffs and other residents have acquired native customary rights to the land.” he said.
See praised Tua Kampung Simo and his group of 31 families for their conviction to defend and safeguard their land, pointing out that they had stood their ground when faced with numerous interlocutory applications filed by the defendants.
They had weathered and battled the attempts by the relevant authorities to declare their NCR land areas as national parks, he added.
Constructed at a cost of RM310 million, the Bengoh Dam, which was completed in 2010, has a retention capacity of 144.1 million cubic metres of water that is directed to the Batu Kitang treatment plant.
The plant supplies water to residents in Kuching and Samarahan.