KUANTAN - Offers of money, con men and threats of violence have become the bane of families living in the Felda settlement in Bukit Goh here ever since the area was identified as a huge deposit of the "red gold" - bauxite.
Settler Mohd Hamdi Shuib, 49, said his father went into depression after being conned by contractors who wanted to mine the family's 10ha lot.
He said the contractors offered RM200,000 (S$65000) but after paying RM40,000 and clearing off the family's palm trees, they did not mine the land or pay the balance.
"Ayah pening (My father doesn't know what to do)," he said.
Without palm trees to harvest and no payment from the miners, the money quickly ran out, as settlers are required to pay Felda RM47,000 in replanting fees if they cut down their trees.
"Luckily, it was a contract kedai kopi which allowed us to exit the deal," said Mohd Hamdi, adding that many other settlers were not as lucky.
He said the contractors threatened his family when he approached other contractors to do the mining. "But nothing untoward happened."
According to Bernama, settler Salwani Tajuddin, 37, was offered RM1mil as payment but she was determined not to lease her oil palm lot.
She said a man approached her early last year, offering a deposit of RM500,000 to mine her land. When she rejected the offer, the man came back a few days later offering double the amount.
"After I turned down that offer, the man was furious and said I was stupid for saying no to that much money.
"As for me, those who lease their land to the bauxite operators are the real losers, as the money can only last for a while but their land will not return to its previous condition," she said.
Salwani, a settler for the last 18 years, said she did not want her oil palm to be affected by the bauxite mining activities.
She said the man approached her a few months later asking that her land be used as a "stockpile" area for lorries and bauxite ore - with a payment of RM5,000 monthly. Again, she turned him down.
Her father Tajuddin Harun, 68, who runs a food stall, said the bauxite operators did not fulfil their promise of paying a monthly compensation of RM1,000 for every trader and RM500 for every household.
He said he received RM1,000 in November but nothing else.
"My business is affected as customers are staying away because of the dust kicked up by the bauxite lorries. I was forced to fork out RM6,000 to install a canvas (to cover my stall)," he added.
Another food stall operator, Ramlah Awang, 49, said her family did not lease out their land - fortunately due to her parent's insistence.
"They believe the trees will keep making money; bauxite is just a fleeting promise," she said.
Ramlah, whose store is along a main road on Bukit Goh, said she had earlier considered leasing the family lot since business suffered due to the dust from passing lorries but abided by her parents' wishes.
Bukit Goh was one of the main locations of rampant bauxite mining and has seen massive change into a "red zone" due to the bauxite dust.
Felda Bukit Goh Settler Welfare committee deputy chairman Nik Abd Majid Nik Sin said that of the 671 settlers in the area, 248 had leased out their land and about 150 had had their land cleared.
Bukit Goh Bauxite Issues Committee secretary Dr Sahrudin Mohd said the settler's 10ha lots were usually worth upwards of RM500,000.
On Saturday, committee chairman Datuk Dr Abd Wahid Abd Manap asked the state government to grant residents and miners licences, as the town had become a cowboy town with miners not caring about the law as they were illegal to begin with.
He said the committee had handled several cases where residents were cheated by such miners.
"It's often difficult to help since they've already signed contracts. Instead, we ask residents to approach us or get lawyers to ensure that their contracts are fair," he said.
Last July, 71 settlers who allowed their land to be mined for bauxite claimed they had been cheated in the deal.
When the issue was raised with Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob, he said the state government was unable to press criminal charges against the bauxite miners as they had struck a deal with the settlers.
As the deals were between two individuals, the settlers were told to bring their cases to court.