The Gemas-Johor Baharu Electrified Double-Tracking Project (EDTP) is a railway construction project from Johor Bahru to Gemas. The project spanning over 197 km cuts across land belonging to the Jakun indigenous community residing in Kampung Sungai Lenek in Mukim Bekok, Segambut, Johor.[1] It was alleged that their land was unlawfully acquired in 2013 to develop the EDTP. Kampung Sungai Lenek is located some 20 km away from Bekok and Labis, two proposed secondary stations as part of the 16-station line beginning from Gemas to JB Sentral.[2]

The Jakun people settled in parts of Johor and Pahang. They are part of the Orang Asli community in Peninsular Malaysia. The Jakun people practice animism and rely on agriculture, fishing and hunting to provide a livelihood.[3]


Background Facts

It was the plaintiffs’ case that[4]:

  1. The acquisition of land in Kampung Sungai Lenek should be declared null and void (invalid) because land gazetted as aboriginal reserves cannot be acquired.
  2. Alternatively, the compensation for the acquisition of land was inadequate under Article 13 (right of all persons to be treated equally under the law), Article 8 (right to property) and Section 12 of the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954.

Additionally, the plaintiffs sought an interim injunction (an order from the court) requiring the defendants to vacate the land immediately. The defendants in the suit included the Federal Government, State Government of Johor, various government agencies and related developers. In response, a number of the defendants applied to strike out the claim (interim application) on the grounds that[5]:

  1. The procedures prescribed in the Land Acquisition Act 1960 and the Johor Government’s Gazette on the acquisition of gazetted land were properly followed.
  2. The plaintiffs did not raise any objections when compensation was offered on September 9, 2014.

Notwithstanding the interim applications, this article summarises the two substantive disputes, namely the lawfulness of the land acquisition and the adequacy of the compensation.


Was the land in Kampung Sungai Lenek wrongfully acquired by or on behalf of the Defendants?

The plaintiffs, relying on the definition of ‘aborigine’ and ‘aboriginal reserve’ in S. 3 and S.7 of the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 (the Act) respectively, submitted that the State Government of Johor and Director-General of Lands and Mines owed a fiduciary duty toward the plaintiffs.[6] Arguably the fiduciary duty was breached when the relevant state authorities failed:

  1. To protect their customary land rights despite knowing their lands were gazetted and therefore excluded from acquisition[7];
  2. To publish a declaration of intention to acquire the land and serve notice on the plaintiffs as parties likely to be affected by the acquisition.[8]

With no actual knowledge of the acquisition, the plaintiffs believe they were deprived of their right to seek legal advice and/or challenge the land acquisition.[9]

In response, the defendants (state authorities) alleged that they did not ‘possess’ the relevant details to locate the Jakun community living on the gazetted land. Apparently, actual knowledge was established when notice was served on the Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli Johor (JAKOA) as the ‘representative’ of indigenous communities. The defendants added that the claim was time-barred because filing a judicial review has to be done within 3 months from the date when the ground of complaint first arose.[10] The plaintiffs only filed the statement of claim and writ on 8 May 2019, some six years later.[11]


Was the amount of compensation offered to the Jakun community inadequate?

The Jakun community in Kampung Sungai Lenek claimed they were only compensated for crops and houses on the land. They were not compensated for the land itself unlike the Malay owners who occupied a nearby area.[12] The plaintiffs argued that they did not receive adequate compensation as mandated by Section 11 and 12 of the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1960 consistent with that offered to the neighbouring Malay owners. Consequently, they claimed their right to equality and right to property under the Federal Constitution[13] were denied.

The defendants (state authorities) responded that the plaintiffs’ claim amounted to an ‘abuse of process’ (the intentional misuse of the civil court process). Accordingly, the plaintiffs should have filed their objections under S.37 of the Land Acquisition Act 1960[14]. Failure to do so invalidates this ground. Alternatively, the plaintiffs failed to file the ‘N’ form within 6 weeks or 6 months of the cause of action accruing.


Settlement Outcome

Nonetheless, the Federal Government and the plaintiffs engaged in settlement discussions to arrive at an amicable resolution. The Federal Government agreed to compensate the plaintiffs up to RM1,056,254.00 for the land, property and crops. Proceedings against the Federal Government, Johor State Government and named government agencies have discontinued.



The terms of the settlement have been recorded in the consent judgment before the Judge in Muar High Court. Thus, judicial intervention is no longer needed.

This case may not give rise or be subject to judicial precedent. However, it is worth asking if we are reaffirming a moral precedent in Malaysian society; that some sections of Malaysia pay for the development of this country with their tax contribution, and others risk sacrificing their entire livelihoods and sacred lands.



[1] Plaintiffs Submissions, para 4, pg 5.

[2] Francis E. Hutchinson and Kevin Zhang, ‘The Gemas-Johor Bahru Railway Electrified Double-Tracking Project: Steady Progress towards Completion’ (3 July 2020) 72 Yusof Ishak Institute Perspective pg 4

[3] Tarmiji Masron, Fujimaki Masami, Norhasimah Ismail, ‘Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia: Population, Spatial Distribution and Socio-Economic Condition’, (January 2013) Journal of Ritsumeikan Social Sciences and Humanities

[4] Plaintiffs Submissions

[5] Ibid n.5

[6] Although the Act is a pre-Merdeka law, any court can apply such law as long as it is in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution (Article 162(6) of the Constitution). The plaintiffs suggest that the fiduciary duty is “a duty to protect the welfare of aborigines including their land rights…and not to act in a manner that is inconsistent with their rights” according to Sagong Bin Tasi & Ors v Kerajaan Negeri Selangor & Ors [2002] 2 CLJ 543

[7] Gazette Notification No. 253

[8] Land Acquisition Act 1960, S. 8 and S.10

[9] Ibid n.6

[10] Rules of Court 2012, Order 53.

[11] MCCHR Indigenous Rights Case Summary

[12] Ibid n. 12

[13] Federal Constitution of Malaysia, Article 13(2)

[14] A statutory provision prescribing the conditions to state one’s objections of the land acquisition to the Land Administrator


Written by

Mahdev Singh Sachdev