Environmental Justice for 2013 Bertam Valley Flood Victims

 Lawyer M.Manogaran acted in the interest of the Bertam Valley residents on a pro bono basis. Image courtesy Aswadi Alias

Lawyer M.Manogaran acted in the interest of the Bertam Valley residents on a pro bono basis. Image courtesy Aswadi Alias

TNB was found liable for negligence in causing the 2013 environmental disaster involving torrential water flow from the Sultan Abu Bakar Hydroelectric Dam causing fatalities, severe flooding and property damage in Cameron Highlands. Lawyer M.Manogaran also calls for a new legislation - a Dam Safety Act - to protect the interest of the public. Mallika Naguran reports.

KUALA LUMPUR, 25 May 2018. Victims of a hydropower dam disaster in West Malaysia have found recourse with the High Court in Kuala Lumpur today when it ruled that Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) was liable in causing flash floods five years ago. This was an environmental disaster that swept away homes, destroyed properties and resulted in four deaths in Bertam Valley, Cameron Highlands.

Justice Nordin Hassan ruled that TNB, the electric utility company, had acted negligently on the night of 23 October 2013, in releasing water from the Sultan Abu Bakar Hydroelectric Dam three times.

He noted TNB had only installed a water inflow measurement instrument at the dam after the incident, despite the dam having been built in 1963.

"Failing to have the instrument is an act of negligence as it (TNB) is entrusted with the lives and property of the people downstream."

"In the circumstance, it is my finding that the defendant failed to maintain the appropriate water level at the dam particularly in the monsoon season

He said as a result of the instrument's absence, the release of water from the dam could not be properly gauged that night.

"It cannot be said that the three releases of water were correct when they had no idea how much of the water to be released," Justice Nordin added.

Justice Nordin ordered that the assessment of damages be done by the deputy registrar of the High Court.

He also ordered TNB to pay RM50,000 in costs to the plaintiff.

A total of 100 residents who are mainly farmers and traders had filed the suit against TNB. They were represented by lawyer M. Manogaram.

The judge then fixed May 30 for case management before a deputy registrar.

It was reported that the water was released from the dam at 12:05 am, 1:05 am and 2:45 am that night.

Justice Nordin also said that while TNB had cited in its defence that the vast volume of rainwater was caused by siltation and deforestation, the court could not accept that explanation as the water inflow measurement instrument was not installed.

Manogaram said the residents are happy with the decision and hoped that TNB would not appeal the finding.

 Dam disaster in Bertam Valley caused severe damage to property, infrastructure apart from taking lives. Image courtesy Sun Daily

Dam disaster in Bertam Valley caused severe damage to property, infrastructure apart from taking lives. Image courtesy Sun Daily

“This case has shown that Dam owners owe a duty to people living downstream. Dam owners and operators have a strict duty to ensure that the Dams are maintained well at all times and even during monsoon seasons it is no excuse to say that heavy rains caused sudden increase in water levels. We hope TNB will not appeal and make the plaintiffs wait for another year or two. They have already suffered enough,” said Manogaran to Gaia Discovery.

“As this is a public interest litigation, it will be better for TNB to compensate the victims for all the losses suffered. The government is also urged to set up a Dam Safety Commission and legislate a Dam Safety Act so that all the dams in Malaysia will be under strict supervision and maintenance in the interest of the public,” said Manogaran.