Sunday, December 3, 2006

Letter to the Dam Consortium (March 2004)

Bhavani Krishna Iyer
Manager, Public Relations
26 March 2004

Dear Bhavani,


The time has come for me to keep you in the loop about what's going on in Kampong Pertak. Logging towkays have been sniffing around the village and making tempting cash propositions to the Batin and several others - in the hope that the Orang Asli will support the latest scam engineered by the JHEOA in cahoots with a few RISDA officers, viz., to allow their ancestral durian and petai orchards to be clear-cut and replanted with rubber trees and/or oil palms.

Firstly, I understand that something like 19,500 hectares of forested area around the reservoir lake have been designated as a strictly no-logging/no-agriculture Catchment Zone. Is that not correct? This Catchment Zone would certainly include the steep hills around Kg Pertak, especially since acute erosion – in addition to the use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides - would be bad news indeed for the Selangor Dam in terms of massive silting and toxic contamination.

Could it be that the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli have yet to read the Selangor Dam Project EIA Report? Perhaps they simply have never been taught these simple facts of ecosystemic preservation and know not the dire consequences of their actions. In any case, JHEOA officers have already convened two meetings at Kg Pertak in the past week urging the Orang Asli to endorse their proposal to convert X number of acres of secondary forest into rubber/oil palm plantations within the Catchment Zone.

Now, here is where my personal mission of safeguarding the natural beauty, integrity and health of one of Selangor's last and finest forest reserves coincides with Splash Sdn Bhd's genuine need to ensure that the functioning of the reservoir dam is not sabotaged. Shortsighted plantation schemes that mainly benefit the loggers (and their friends in the state bureaucracy) will certainly despoil the environs of the reservoir lake and ruin all prospects of future low-impact ecotourism projects.

Such a development will be yet another deathblow to the Orang Asli's cultural and spiritual uniqueness which has traditionally made them respectful of the forest that provides almost all their basic survival needs.

Furthermore, by issuing the relocated villagers with 99-year leases on their housing lots, the JHEOA - in concert with the Land Office - have effectively turned the Temuan into rent-paying tenants on land the tribe has inhabited for countless generations. Within another two generations, the fate of the Temuan tribe will reside in the hands of the Ulu Selangor Land Office, which is at liberty to terminate the lease when it expires.

Kg Pertak is seeing more and more visitors each week, seeking refuge from urban stress and pollution. Surely, the obvious way for the Orang Asli to benefit from their indigeneity is to encourage and help them to start small-scale hospitality services like setting up caf├ęs and native-style accommodation for ardent nature-lovers. These activities have strong potential to generate a decent cash income for the local residents, and restore their dignity, self-esteem, adaptability and versatility in the long run - without in any way damaging the natural beauty, integrity, and health of the forest. Of course, this sort of "development" must be kept on a modest and manageable scale and closely monitored to maintain the pristine vitality and aesthetic value of this precious Green Sanctuary.

I urge that Splash Sdn Bhd lend its full support to the Orang Asli’s legitimate claim to the area long established as their customary lands, thus allowing them a sense of permanency and belonging. In time to come many will prove their aptitude as trek and kayaking guides, homestay operators, and as forest rangers assigned the task of protecting the Catchment Zone from poachers and loggers, and keeping it free from litter.

I trust that you will bring this serious matter to the attention of the Executive Management and keep me informed about their response.

Thank you for your kind attention.