FOR years, the Orang Asli at Kampung Sinju in Simpang Pulai, Perak, have been foraging near the Bukit Kinta Forest Reserve near their village and carrying out small-scale farming.
But their idyllic lifestyle came to an abrupt halt last September when, without warning, land clearing activities started up in the area.
Village head Tok Batin Alang Apok Sitam, 67, said the clearing work took place less than a metre away from their village.
“The villagers first saw heavy machinery on the other side of the land and before we knew it, they bulldozed our small farms without any notice.
“The surrounding areas near our village is considered our tanah rayau (roaming land).
“This is where we go to look for forest produce and conduct our rituals.
“When we tried to stop the machines, the workers told us they were just doing their job.
“They said the land had been earmarked for a durian plantation,” he added.
Alang Apok said they managed to contact the purported owner of the land.
“He told us he had bought the land from a person in Selangor.
“It doesn’t make sense as we have been here for generations and depend on the forest for our livelihood.
“Now that the land has been cleared, what are we supposed to do?” the village chief asked.
Kampung Sinju is a Temiar village with about 80 houses and 300 residents. It is located a few kilometres from Jalan Simpang Pulai-Cameron Highlands.
The land clearing has also left the villagers without a clean source of water.
“The villagers have to deal with murky water and muddy puddles after heavy rain now,” complained Alang Apok.
There are several other Orang Asli villages nearby including Kampung Pergom.
Ngah Gudang, 55, from Kampung Pergom, hopes stern action will be taken against the company for clearing the land.
“The area was used by the Orang Asli to earn a living.
“We used to have a few rubber, durian and petai trees and sold the produce, but now everything is gone.
“Some of us have no other choice but to take up odd jobs to earn a living,” he added.
Society of Environmental Activists (Kuasa) president Hafizuddin Nasaruddin said the project did not follow procedure.
“Upon checking, we found out that there is no buffer zone between the project and villagers’ homes.
“The clearing was also done on a high slope with a gradient of between 30 and 45 degrees.
“This could potentially cause a landslide or mudslide.
“Worst of all, it has affected the livelihood of Kampung Sinju villagers,” he said.
Hafizuddin stressed that land clearing should only be conducted on slopes with a gradient below 25 degrees.
“The project is said to be on 5ha of land, but we believe a larger area has been cleared.
“The project may also pollute Sungai Sinju, which is the main water source for villagers,” he added.
Hafizuddin said there was no signboard with relevant information on the project.
“The rubber, petai and durian trees belonging to the villagers were destroyed and they were not compensated.
“The state government should stop this project,” he said.
Project on pause
When contacted, Perak and Kedah Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) director Harulnizam Abd Rahman said a meeting had been held to discuss the project.
“The meeting was called by the district office. The company that did the clearing work and Jakoa were asked to attend.
“During the meeting, it was decided that the project would be paused for a while,” he said without elaborating further.
When contacted, Perak Forestry Department director Datuk Mohamed Zin Yusop confirmed the clearing work was done on privately owned land near Compartment 134 of Bukit Kinta Forest Reserve.
“The land is being cleared for a durian plantation,” he said.
Perak Environment Department director Rosli Zul said the department was gathering more information.
“We are still in the midst of investigating the matter.
“Our officers have visited the area and are now waiting for the company and related agencies to provide us with more information before proceeding,” he said.
In 2019, it was reported that the Perak government had alienated some 400ha of forest land for plantation projects in Kledang Saiong Forest Reserve and Bukit Kinta Forest Reserve.
Then Perak mentri besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu said the land was not part of the forest reserves, and that it was secondary forests.
However, Kuasa said the forests were covered with dipterocarp trees such as meranti, balau, keruing, merbau and cengal.
Despite protests, the Perak government said it would continue with the project as the permits had been approved.