Jakarta’s Slum-Dwellers Resist Attempts to Clean Rivers

Jakarta’s governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, has kicked off a firestorm with his attempts to clean up slums along the notoriously polluted Ciliwung River, with more than 2,200 National Police officers and the Indonesian military deployed in the effort to evict rock- and Molotov cocktail- throwing slum residents.

The city government two months ago ordered the residents out of Kampung Pulo in East Jakarta, who had refused to leave despite receiving orders from the city administration to vacate the riverbanks.

Although the land under dispute is owned by the state and personal use is strictly prohibited, the residents of Kampung Pulo are a part of a vast network of slums along the city’s waterways, rivers and reservoirs, who comprise as many as 3.5 million of the vast conurbation’s 28 million residents. They have lived on the riverbanks for generations, erecting a strong social fabric that resists change, in huts made of any range of material they can scavenge.

Nonetheless, the government’s vow to clean Jakarta’s foul waterways has meant they have to move. The Ciliwung in particular has repeatedly been named as one of the world’s most polluted rivers. Recurrent floods are of particular concern to the city’s poor, whose ramshackle dwellings are regularly inundated by the contaminated river water, exposing them to waterborne diseases.

The residents who have refused to leave say the government must compensate them for the money they have spent on building their houses ̶ an ultimatum that Basuki was quick to shoot down, calling it baseless.

In 2012, after four years of negotiations, Indonesian Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya signed an agreement with his South Korean counterpart Yoo Young Sook that detailed US$9 million of Korean investment to fund the restoration, matched by approximately Rp10 billion (US$1.04 million) investment from the Jakarta government. That forms a small part of the project, with the World Bank the main financiers of the Urgent Flood Mitigation Project. The Bank has put up US$139.64 million of the US$190 million project. The Ciliwung project earmarked by the agreement between Jakarta and Seoul is separate, although they will coincide in the coming years.

That has meant that the 34,000 residents of Kampung Pulo have had to go. However, even more than the floods, the residents fear the prospect of eviction. Given the government’s past record, they are suspicious of offers of compensation. They do not possess land title to their properties despite the fact that many families have lived there for generations, arriving even before the law was promulgated that forms the basis of Indonesia’s land ownership regime.

Basuki, known universally as Ahok, is an ethnic Chinese who took over after Joko Widodo, the previous governor, was elected president. He has insisted that he will provide the dispossessed wit what he calls “luxurious” rental apartments nearby. So far, however, only 520 units have been built. The others are faced with scattering far across Jakarta, away from the markets and other venues where they now work. Forced resettlement also breaks up the social networks that have been built over decades.

Accordingly, as the excavators approached, the residents protested by changing and singing the national anthem before they started throwing things. They set one backhoe on fire. Two local residents were evacuated after being hit by police. When officers began firing tear gas and pointing water cannons at the angry crowd, protestors reluctantly pulled back to seek safety.

The eviction process, which started around 7 am on Thursday, caused chaotic traffic jams in neighboring areas. East Jakarta Police chief Sr. Comr. Umar Faroq told reporters he regretted the violence but defended the actions of security officers who he claimed were defending themselves against residents. He said officers would be stationed in the area to prevent more trouble.

Azas Tigor Nainggolan, chairman of Jakarta Residents Forum, told reporters that officials should have provided the residents with more detail on what was going to happen.

"We are not against eviction ̶ as long as there's a clear SOP," said Azas, who was present at Thursday's eviction process.

Commenting on the violent clash between Kampung Pulo residents and city officials, Basuki said forced eviction was "the only way" to clear the state-owned land from squatters.

"If we can't solve this, Jakarta will continue to be a mess. We've notified [the residents]. Why should we wait any longer?" he told reporters. The eviction process is expected to proceed despite the violence.

"We gave them a two-month notice to move out and they still wouldn't move. If they persist, we don't have any other options but to force them out," another official said, adding that officers have been ordered to put up barricades to keep the evicted residents from coming back.

Basuki agreed that the eviction process could not be delayed for a Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN) ruling, arguing that the land was clearly owned by the state.

With the help of non-profit organization Ciliwung Merdeka, Kampung Pulo residents filed a lawsuit against the East Jakarta Public Order Agency on Thursday, demanding the revocation of a third eviction warrant dated Aug. 6, ordering them to clear the area.

The first court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 25, even though legal proceedings on the residents' lawsuit against the second eviction warrant, which was issued on June 11, is still ongoing.

"How are you going to sue us?" Basuki demanded. "You are illegally living on state land."