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Federal Court grants Orang Asli injunction to halt Gopeng dam project
Published on: Wednesday, September 13, 2023
By: FMT, V Anbalagan
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Federal Court grants Orang Asli injunction to halt Gopeng dam project
The Orang Asli settlers of Ulu Geruntum in Gopeng have secured an interim injunction from the Federal Court to prevent the construction of a dam pending a full hearing of their claim to ancestral land. (Facebook file pic)
PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court has granted an Orang Asli tribe a reprieve by halting two companies from constructing a hydroelectric dam in Gopeng, Perak, in a dispute over what they claim is ancestral land.

In a hearing conducted online today, a three-member bench chaired by Justice Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim held that the Court of Appeal had erred in setting aside an interlocutory injunction previously ordered by the High Court.

The bench, which also consisted of Justices Mary Lim and Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil, awarded the Orang Asli RM50,000 in costs.

On May 23, the Federal Court allowed the Orang Asli leave to appeal, after ruling that they had satisfied the requirements set out in Section 96(a) of the Courts of Judicature Act 1964.

The apex court held that the question as to whether in an action for recovery of land, Section 18 of the Specific Relief Act 1950 permits an applicant to seek both specific relief and an alternative claim for damages was one that merited a full hearing.

On April 21, 2021, then judicial commissioner G Bhupindar Singh allowed the Orang Asli an interlocutory injunction against Perak Hydro Renewable Energy Corporation Sdn Bhd and Conso Hydro RE Sdn Bhd, and their agents pending the disposal of the main suit.

However, on April 1 last year, the Court of Appeal set aside the injunction.

In 2018, 22 Orang Asli settlers from Ulu Geruntum, Gopeng, filed a suit naming the two private companies, the Perak government, the Orang Asli development department’s director-general, the Perak lands and mines department and the federal government as defendants.

The plaintiffs want work on the dam to be stopped, claiming that it infringes their community’s rights to their ancestral land which was cleared without their consent.

The settlers, who are from the Semai tribe, come from six villages in the Ulu Geruntum area – Kampung Sungai Kapor, Kampung Sat, Kampung Ulu Kepayang, Kampung Empang Main, Kampung Poh and Kampung Ulu Geruntum.

The two companies started the project in Sungai Geruntum in 2012.

The plaintiffs added that the state and federal agencies had a fiduciary duty to protect their rights under the Federal Constitution and the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954.

They are seeking declarations that they are the legal owners of the ancestral land in Ulu Geruntum and that the defendants have no right to damage or extinguish their land rights.

They are also seeking an injunction and a court order for the companies to vacate the land immediately and compensate them for the encroachment.

The group also wants the court to order the federal and state governments to compensate them for failing to uphold their fiduciary duties.

Lawyers Aaron Mathews, Vinu Kamalananthan, Conrad Lopez, Sarah Tiong and Shahrul Azwan appeared for the Orang Asli, while Goik Kenzin, Ramesh Sivakumar and Calvin Lim represented the companies in today’s proceedings.

Vinu said that parties have concluded the substantive hearing of the suit in the High Court and will be making their respective submissions soon.

“With today’s apex court decision, the injunction will remain in force until the High Court makes a ruling,” he told FMT.

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