Saturday, July 31, 2021 | Dhu al-hijjah 21, 1442 H
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Indonesia fights developer with snorkels, homestays

Rina Chandran -

SYahrul Hidayat’s family has lived on the Indonesian Island of Pulau Pari for four generations.

But their lives and livelihoods have come under threat in recent years as their customary land rights have been denied, and a developer claims ownership of much of the island off the northern coast near Jakarta. The 1,200-strong community is already contending with the existential threats of warmer temperatures, rising seas and worsening marine pollution. But the denial of land rights could strike the deadliest blow, said Hidayat.

“We have adapted to smaller catches of fish and smaller volumes of seaweed, because of climate change and pollution,” said Hidayat, who is leading the campaign to reclaim the community’s land rights.

President Joko Widodo last month signed a decree on agrarian reform, with an aim to issue titles and distribute land to peasants and indigenous people.

Officials distributed more than five million land titles last year, and plan to issue seven million titles this year. But the effort is hampered by the government’s insistence on providing titles only if ownership can be considered “clean and clear”, say activists.

That affects residents of Pulau Pari. They handed over their documents, but never got the certificates, said Hidayat.

“We were tricked into giving up the only proof of ownership we had, and were not informed of the plans to sell our land,” Hidayat said.

The company Bumi Pari Asri did not respond to calls seeking comment. The 95-hectare island was uninhabited until the early 1900s, when dozens of people from the large island of Java decamped there to avoid forced labour under Dutch colonialists, according to historians.

Residents mostly made a living from fishing, then cultivated seaweed.

But the seaweed was affected by pollution from reclamation of land in Jakarta Bay, said Hidayat.

A few non-profits suggested they try eco-tourism.

Most households on the island have been involved in the effort since 2010, offering homestays and activities such as snorkelling, canoeing and cycling for visitors. “Residents are able to be self-sufficient while also conserving the island’s eco-system,” said KIARA’s Herawati, who assisted the community in the project.

Meanwhile, following petitions by Pulau Pari residents to the Jakarta governor, an ombudsman conducted an inquiry.

The ombudsman said there had been violations in issuing certificates of ownership and building permits to the developer. He advised an audit by the National Land Agency.

— Thomson Reuters Foundation

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