Rempang, like many other regions in the archipelago, has seen a surge in land disputes since the founding of the Republic, with its contentious management, marked by a one-sided approach and violence, deeply impacting the Malay community and stirring strong sentiments. #kbanews
HEN Rempang became a hotspot of land disputes, one of the thousands of similar cases across the archipelago since the inception of the Republic. The contentious handling of this conflict, marked by a one-sided approach and violence, has stirred strong sentiments among the Malay community.
Thousands of Malays from Riau, Jambi, Medan, and even Palembang have gathered in Rempang to protest the eviction of six villages to make way for investors’ interests.
Pulau Rempang is a small island situated north of Batam Island, covering an area of approximately 2,600 hectares and housing around 7,500 residents, predominantly Malay.
The land dispute in Pulau Rempang, Batam, Riau Islands, revolves around the proposed eviction of 16 local villages, equipped with essential amenities such as health clinics, mosques, roads, ports, public transport, sports fields, volleyball and basketball courts, electricity and telephone networks, along with 10 primary schools, 3 junior high schools, and 1 senior high school.
The residents of these villages are to be relocated to a new site on Pulau Galang, approximately 10 kilometers from Pulau Rempang. The new settlement will be constructed by the Indonesian government. However, the new land is estimated to be smaller than what they had in Pulau Rempang. Additionally, adapting to their new life on Pulau Galang will prove challenging, as it lacks adequate infrastructure.
The primary livelihood of these villagers is agriculture, farming, and fishing. Some also work as traders and construction laborers. The land conflict in Pulau Rempang has had various adverse effects on the local population, causing them to lose their livelihoods, identity, and culture.
In light of the hardships facing the people of Rempang, the Indonesian government has a duty to seek a fair and comprehensive solution. This solution should meet the needs of the Rempang residents and ensure they can live decently while preserving their cultural identity.
The eviction is being carried out in the name of the Rempang Eco City integrated investment zone project, spearheaded by the Batam Free Trade and Free Port Authority (BP Batam).
The people of Pulau Rempang reject the eviction plan, as they believe that the land has been theirs for generations, and they have the right to reside on it. They are also concerned that eviction will deprive them of their livelihoods and homes. It’s worth noting that Pulau Rempang has been inhabited long before the Republic of Indonesia was established, dating back to the 16th century when it was under the jurisdiction of the Johor Sultanate.
BP Batam claims that the land in Pulau Rempang belongs to the state and that they have the right to use it for development purposes. BP Batam has also offered compensation to the affected residents, but the residents have rejected it, deeming the compensation inadequate.
The land dispute in Pulau Rempang escalated further in August 2023 when residents blocked the bridge connecting Pulau Rempang to Pulau Batam as a form of protest against the eviction plan.
The project set to be developed on Pulau Rempang is the Rempang Eco City integrated investment zone. This area will be developed by PT Rempang Eco City, a company owned by PT. Makmur Elok Graha, one of the companies in the Artha Graha business group owned by Tommy Winata.
The promised investment value is Rp381 trillion. Investment permits were granted by the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) in 2022.
The claimed land area by PT Rempang Eco City is approximately 1,990 hectares, or about 76% of the total land in Pulau Rempang. This area includes residential land, farmland, and forests.
Within this extensive area, Rempang Eco City plans to establish industrial, commercial, tourist, and renewable energy zones. The industrial zone will focus on housing various factories and industries, including manufacturing, processing, and services. The commercial zone will feature shopping centers, offices, and hotels.
The tourist zone will encompass various attractions, including beaches, forests, and parks. Meanwhile, the renewable energy zone will host solar, wind, and hydropower plants.
The development of Rempang Eco City is expected to boost the economic growth of Batam and the Riau Islands. It is also anticipated to create new job opportunities and enhance the well-being of the local population.
Compensation or fair value?
BP Batam has offered compensation to the residents of Rempang affected by the eviction. The compensation includes cash, houses, and land. For housing, residents will receive a 45-square-meter house on a 500-square-meter plot of land, estimated to be worth around Rp120 million.
Regarding land, residents will be given a 500-square-meter plot, valued at approximately Rp50 million. In addition to this, residents will also receive a cash payment of Rp50 million per family. With around 2,000 families affected, the total compensation cost for PT Rempang Eco City is approximately Rp440 billion.
However, the residents of Rempang have rejected this compensation, deeming it unfair. They are requesting higher compensation, including a 70-square-meter house on a 1,000-square-meter plot of land, along with Rp200 million in cash.
If the residents’ demands are met, the total compensation per family would be approximately Rp520 million. By these calculations, PT Rempang Eco City would need to allocate at least Rp1.04 trillion.
Looking at the bigger picture, one cannot help but be astonished at how meager the compensation offered to thousands of affected people is.
What is Rp1 trillion compared to an investment valued at Rp381 trillion? How little value is placed on human lives by investors and government officials paid by the people?
In my opinion, the demands of the Rempang residents are already fair. Moreover, they should receive assistance in overcoming the economic and cultural transformation processes following their eviction.
Economic and cultural transformation
The compensation disputes mentioned above have yet to account for the threat of losing livelihoods. In their new location on Pulau Galang, the soil might not be suitable for farming, and farmers from Rempang will need to adapt.
Can they sustain themselves on just 1,000 square meters of land? The same applies to Rempang’s fishermen; is the port on Galang on par with the facilities available on Pulau Rempang? What about markets, traders, cooling facilities, and transportation for their catch?
The transformation process concerning livelihoods and the ingrained habits of centuries poses significant risks. It would require hundreds of thousands of professional work hours to restructure, hard work, and significant expenses on the part of the residents. Additionally, there should be safety nets in place to mitigate the risks of failure during this transformation process.
Apart from the risks associated with economic transformation, there are also concerns about cultural transformation. If Rempang Eco City develops as expected, hundreds of thousands of immigrants will flow into Rempang.
Each immigrant will bring their own culture, and it’s not unlikely that Malay culture will become a minority. In such a scenario, Malay culture may fade and, perhaps, be forgotten.
In my view, the government tends to underestimate these risks. For the directly affected communities, these risks are real, and they must be prepared for them.
By Radhar Tribaskoro, Columnist