THE orang asli community living along Jalan Simpang Pulai-Cameron Highlands are shocked to learn of an impending forest replanting project involving 400ha of forest land near their settlements.
The replanting efforts involve forests in Kledang Saiong near Batu Gajah and Bukit Kinta in Gopeng and Piah near Gerik.
Among the villages affected are Kampung Juang and Kampung Kerawat, where villagers still depend on the forest for food and other produces.
Tok batin for the villages, Ngah Amin, said it was disturbing to hear the news when several non-governmental organisations (NGO), including Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), Kumpulan Aktivis Sahabat Alam (Kuasa) and Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam (Peka) visited Kampung Juang to inform the villagers of the upcoming project.
Unhappy that the state government had given the approval for the forest replanting project in December last year, the NGOs grouped together to break the bad news to the orang asli communities.
Ngah, 58, said the orang asli have been foraging for food and produce from the forest for more than 100 years.
“I grew up watching my late grandfather and father going into the forest to get food supplies and ingredients for traditional medicine.
“If the project takes place, habislah (that’s it),” he said when met by the NGOs.
“There are about five settlements with about 500 villagers. I think we will be badly affected,” he added.
Ngah said he would not allow such a project to take place unless villagers benefit from it.
“I will meet with the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) to get more information on this matter.
“I want to know if they know about the project and how it will affect us,” he said.
“Did they overlook our rights? If the land is not ours, where is our land then? What are our rights?” he added.
Ngah said he would lodge a police report and fight for the rights of his people if the project were to proceed.
“We have used the land for more than three generations.
“Not only did the state approve the permit without consulting us, it wants to destroy the forest that has helped us to survive. This is not right or fair,” he added.
Ngah’s statement was in reference to reports by The Star titled “No open tender for project” on Feb 14 and “Perak govt to continue pushing for forest replanting project” on March 20.
Kampung Juang resident Hashim Asam, 60, said the villagers were not informed of any project near their settlement.
“No one told us about any developments taking place here.
“My people go to the forest to gather fruits, petai and other produce to earn a living,” he said,
adding that there were 150 villagers in Kampung Juang.
“If the state government proceeds with the project, I fear for our survival.”
It was also reported that the project was awarded to a company that was established in July 2018, just months after the 14th General Election in May last year.
SAM field officer Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman questioned if the state government visited the villagers to inform them about the project.
“Based on our discussions with the villagers at Kampung Juang, it is clear that the project was approved without considering the social impact of the development.
“Perhaps the project was approved because the area might not have any more commercially productive trees,” he said.
“Our main concern is the livelihood of the villagers.”
Kuasa president Hafizudin Nasarudin said there was something “fishy” about the project.
“To get a permit, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) must be done at the area.
“Among the perimeters to consider in the project are social and socio-economy studies.
“A social study in the EIA is also done to get feedback from the villagers, whether they support the project or otherwise.
“For the socio-economy study, they will need to check if the community is dependent on the forest or otherwise, and what will happen to their livelihood after the development,” he added.
He said the EIA report would usually be conducted by the Department of Environment before any approval was given for a project to proceed.
“How did the company receive the permit before an EIA was done?” he asked.
The Perak government has stated that it will push for the replanting project to go on at the areas deemed as “hutan miskin” or unproductive forests.
SAM was also concerned that the project would affect the areas’ eco-system, water catchment as well as the flora and fauna.
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