Unsettled land disputes leave Jakarta prone to conflict

Experts warn that unsettled land disputes could have the potential to cause social unrest if the Jakarta administration continues to neglect the issue.

Past and current land cases in Jakarta have shown the potential to rupture social structures and
cause havoc that sometimes ends in bloodshed.

People still remember the Koja, North Jakarta, conflict that resulted in a clash between authorities and locals in April, during which three people were killed and approximately 200 others were injured.

The capital has suffered from numerous conflicts triggered by disputed land claims that span many years. The Jakarta administration received 120 complaints over disputed land in 2007, although many were left unresolved. It is believed that there are thousands of land disputes throughout Greater Jakarta, most of which are concentrated in West, South and East Jakarta.

One of Jakarta’s largest land scandals occurred in the 1980s, involving a 78-hectare plot of land in Meruya, West Jakarta. The case revolved around ownership claims disputed by many different parties. Some people claimed they had purchased the land from local residents and had obtained official ownership documents.

The case is still held up in court due to the complexity of the matter and the number of parties involved, leaving residents without certainty over the fate of the land they have occupied for many years.

Urban analysts have called on the city administration and the National Land Agency (BPN) to help solve the issue by clarifying the land certification system, which has been blamed for contributing to several land disputes in Jakarta.  BPN data shows that at least 31 percent of the city’s land area is still unregistered, making these areas vulnerable to conflicting claims of ownership.

Apart from bureaucratic inefficiencies, contentions have been exacerbated by the administration’s tendency to favor the wealthy class in matters involving land distribution. Existing policies have overruled the right of the poor to obtain land in the capital, as land has become a commodity only for people with money, the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) said, adding that the poor are desperate to find places to live in Jakarta, a situation that often leads to trespassing.

However, the city administration is not hesitant to displace poor people, and the number of new social conflicts caused by land disputes will increase if the authorities fail to address the issue and amend their policies, LBH Jakarta added.

“There is potential for conflict in Marunda, North Jakarta, as residents respond to the administration’s plan to develop the area for the rich,” LBH Jakarta director Nurkholis Hidayat told The Jakarta Post.
Nurkholis predicts the same problem will occur when the East Flood Canal project is implemented in East Jakarta, where residents refuse to be relocated.

“The administration has to realize that this city doesn’t only belong to the rich. We must work on a development plan that involves all people,” he added.

Delays in city development projects also trigger land disputes in Jakarta,  director for Rapid Agrarian Conflict Appraisal Nur Amalia said.

“Many areas have not been developed because people are waiting for clarification of land status,” she said, citing an example of a large empty complex located across from the Ratu Plaza mall on Jl. Sudirman, South Jakarta.

It is not only the public that suffers from land disputes, but the city administration is also negatively impacted by allowing land disputes to go unresolved, Amalia said.

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