Miri – Landowners from Baram collectively denounce the plans to extinguish their property rights to pave the way for the Baram Dam reservoir area. They assert that they have never given consent for the Baram Dam to advance, and that extinguishment of their land rights is in contravention of the Malaysian Constitution. In a government gazette dated 22nd December 2014, the land rights of the villagers were being extinguished. The notice of extinguishment was published in the Borneo Post on 9th January 2015. In the publication, it was stated that the land are required for public purpose, namely for development of reservoir site for the proposed Baram Hydro-Electric Power (HEP) Dam. Based on the notice, those who own native customary right land at the sites specified in the gazette notice have 60 days to make claims for their land.
“The acquisition of the vast tracts of native customary rights lands and forests in order to clear and flood it for the Baram Dam is unjustifiable, unnecessary and not in the interests of the affected communities, Baram residents and Sarawak people. It will fill the pockets of a few, but lead to the forced and unjust displacement and involuntary relocation of thousands of people who have never given their informed consent for such a project. If the exercise goes ahead, it reflects total disrespect and absolute disregards to the rights of the indigenous communities as stipulated in the United Nations Declarations of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIPs). The manner the project is carried out is highly questionable including non-disclosure and non-display of environmental impact assessment reports for public scrutiny. Besides, there is no need for the electricity when Bakun is not functioning at full capacity and the Murum Dam is gearing for operation once it is ready,” said Mr. Thomas Jalong, the President of Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS).
To demonstrate their steadfast opposition to the attempts of Sarawak Energy and the state authorities to try to take over their customary land for the Baram Dam’s reservoir and other associated infrastructure facilities, the villagers plan to present a letter about the gazette addressed directly to the State Ministry of Resource Planning and Environment, and to the Land and Survey Department. They will also be challenging the legality of the extinguishment in court. Peter Kallang, the chairman of SAVE Rivers said, “We will support the villagers in whatever ways we can in their fight against the plan to build the Baram Dam. The sole aim of this Baram Dam project is to power the industries in the coastal areas and not to bring development or employment for the people in Baram who will suffer most if the dam is built.”