The Orang Asli Seletar, a sea faring community, have lived along the coast of south Johor for hundreds of years. They are traditional fisherman living off the catches along the mangrove forest in the southern coast of Johor. These mangrove forests are steadily being cleared to make way for ports, power plants, oil storage, high rise buildings and industrial sits. These rapid emergence of industrial development sites along the coastal area of Nusajaya and Iskandar corridor are fast encroaching the orang Asli Seletar customary land leading to their ultimate eviction.

All their appeal to preserve their customary land to the Johor state government has fallen on deaf years and the coastal land is being continuously developed. The continued decimation of mangrove forests and pollutions of tributary rivers and coastal waters have crippled their traditional and subsistence activities thus driving them to poverty and possible extinction.

 The Orang Asli Selentar are lamenting and seeking for help to save the mangrove forest which was rich with sea shells, crabs, shrimps, fishes, birds, monkeys and other reptiles. They are all fast depleting and the orang asli fishermen folk’s income has dwindled. The fast growth in the Iskandar development region has brought high revenue to state government, developers and foreigners but the original inhabitants have been left high and dry without any support.

 The kampong Simpang Arang folks have written to Johor state menteri besar, Mr Tan Ah Eng the former MP for Gelang Patah, Datuk Haji Abdul Aziz bin haji Sapian former Adun on Sept 2012 but no response. They sought help from the Johor Port Berhad but offered pittance. They have made several police reports but no response from the state government. In Dec 2012, 188 Orang Asli Selentar have filed a class action in the Johor Bahru high court against 12 parties including state and federal government. They are yet to be considered by the courts. Earlier in Sept 2010 they filed a case against the local council and Johor director of land and mines, for committing trespass of orang asli selentar plaintiffs’ land and won the case. But on the ground orang asli selentar continue to facing the same old problem of dwindling income and no decision on their customary land and their livelihood.

 The “equitable and fair distribution among stakeholder” clause in the Iskandar development comprehensive plan did not provide any compensation to the original inhabitants. The Orang Asli Selentar are simply ignored and conveniently forgotten in the whole development plan by Iskandar regional development authority (IRDA). The 180 orang asli selentar families in Kampong simpang arang don’t have ownership of their kampong house and their customary land exposed to development without any negotiation, recourse or compensation. Their burial grounds are exposed to be desecrated and removed to make way for development.

 The kampong Simpang Arang Orang Asli folks are looking forward to submit a memorandum to Prime Minister in Putrajaya to look into their plight and take affirmative action to preserve their customary land and burial ground in the mangrove forest.

 The deforestation of Mangroves along the coast of southern Johor is also an environmental concern. They are a safety net against any tsunami and high waves. It was reported in the world conservation report that the damage caused by the tragic 2004 Asian tsunami was exacerbated by over clearing of mangroves and other “bioshields”, inappropriate coastal development and inadequate information and preparedness. This tragedy continues unabatedly along the coast of southern Johor in name of development and national growth. Mangrove forest also act as filters and traps of pollutants and the stabilization of coastal land by trapping sediment and protection against storm damage.

 It is rather surprising that the Johor department of environment has not taken any affirmative action to stop these developments that are causing gradual depletion of mangrove forest. We call upon them to take positive action. Orang Asli Selentar community is an important stakeholder in the management of mangrove forest. They have lived along and preserved the mangrove forest all this while but they are completely alienated and ignored. We hope the DOE comes open with what is happening to the mangrove forest and outline steps taken to preserve them.

Explore posts in the same categories: From the desk of Senator S Ramakrishnan

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