Indonesia: Villagers resist eviction for 50 airport city on their land

Last November 17, 2,000 police rushed onto farmland to enforce land measurement for Kertajati Airport. Photo: Walhi Jawa Barat.

Last November 17, 2,000 police rushed onto farmland to enforce land measurement for Kertajati Airport. Photo: Walhi Jawa Barat.

Ten villages and surrounding farmland have already been wiped from the map for a 50 airport and surrounding 'aeropolis' or airport city in West Java, Indonesia, writes Rose Bridger. And while investors are offered an 'attractive incentives plan', villagers are subject to fierce state repression and brutality. Now only a single village remains standing, but residents continue to resist eviction and demand an end to the project.
Villagers have been evicted and farmland obliterated for an aeropolis. Kertajati Airport is not intended to provide air services to an existing urban area, but to spur massive commercial, industrial and residential development on surrounding farmland.

On 17th November 2016 residents of Sukamulya village in West Java, Indonesia, gathered to resist eviction from their farmland for Kertajati Airport, a megaproject which has already wiped ten villages from the map.

They formed a line around the land to be measured for the airport and met with a brutal response. 2,000 police officers deployed to enforce the land measurement rushed onto rice fields firing teargas.

Crops and several homes were damaged and 12 residents were injured, one of them suffering an open wound from forceful blows to the head.

After the police attack some residents were too frightened to return to their homes and took refuge in the village hall. A number of villagers who refused to give up their land were arrested and three people were detained.

Indonesian land rights and agrarian reform NGO Konsorsium Pembaruan Agraria (KPA) highlighted resistance against Kertajati Airport as one of Indonesia's key land rights struggles and stated that 1,478 families were refusing to move for the project, defending 500 hectares of land.

Tensions over land acquisition for Kertajati Airport had been simmering throughout 2016. Rallies were held on 25th January, 22nd February and on 2nd May, when participants demanded a fair land settlement and complained that intimidation by officials had forced some residents to flee from their homes.

A lengthy stand-off between officials attempting to measure land for Kertajati Airport and villagers refusing to be displaced began on 8th August 2016. Hundreds of people participated in the protests and women played a leading role. Sukamulya was bedecked with flags and banners.

Road entrances to the village were monitored day and night and blocked with tyres, preventing officials accessing the land. A protest camp with a communal kitchen, using food harvested in Sukamulya and donated by villagers, helped maintain high spirits.

The blockade was successful and over the following few weeks several attempts at land measurement were cancelled. Residents repeatedly gathered to block entry to the village, succeeded in holding back officials from the land agency, Badan Pertanahan Nasional (BPN) and police.

Villagers have been evicted and farmland obliterated for an aeropolis. Kertajati Airport is not intended to provide air services to an existing urban area, but to spur massive commercial, industrial and residential development on surrounding farmland.

Hundreds of Sukamulya residents were steadfast in their determination to defend their land and demanded that the government treat them humanely. On 5th September KPA reported that the government maintained its stance on imposing the airport project, aware that the more forceful attempt at land measurement and eviction that occurred in November was looming.

The land defenders knew that BPN preparing to make another attempt to enter Sukamulya accompanied by a greater number of security officials.

12 years of repression and resistance

Plans for Kertajati Airport, on an enormous 5,000 hectare site in Majalengka, a predominantly rural administrative area, first surfaced in 2004. The intervening twelve years have been marked by vigorous resistance against eviction from homes and farmland.

Kertajati Airport is a government project, developed by province-owned enterprise Bandara Internasional Jawa Barat (BIJB). KPA maintains that the chiefs of the 11 affected villages unilaterally supported the airport project, against the will of the majority of residents who rejected the plan.

Sukamulya residents hope to avoid the fate of people displaced from the ten villages in the Kertajati sub-district which have been bulldozed for the airport, who were given inadequate compensation for loss of their homes and farmland. The Front Perjuangan Rakyat Sukamulya (FPRS), which translates as the Sukamulya People's Struggle Front, was formed to resist eviction for the airport.

The 17th November 2016 incident of serious state brutality against villagers resisting eviction from their homes and farmland for BIJB on took place almost exactly two years after a previous violent police attack.

On 18th November 2014, without warning, hundreds of officials, surveyors escorted by armed police, arrived to measure land in the villages of Sukamulya and Sukakerta. Hundreds of residents attempted to block officials from entering the villages and police responded with violence, firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

At least five people were detained and many citizens were injured from being trampled on and dragged along the road. Some people were beaten.

A 50 square kilometre aeropolis

Since the inception of the Kertajati Airport project opponents have pointed out that the proposed 5,000 hectare site is far larger than required even if the airport meet its ambitious projections.

The world's busiest airport, Atlanta in the US, which includes substantial commercial development such as shopping malls and warehouses, with a site of 1,625 hectares, handles more than 95 million passengers annually. Even if, upon completion of the final stage of multiphase development, Kertajati Airport meets its projection of between 50 and 60 million passengers annually, the land area is far more than required for this scale of aeronautical operations.

The rationale for the enormous site became clear when plans for Kertajati Aerocity, adjoining the airport and covering a 3,200 hectare land area came to light. Adding the Aerocity to the airport site of 1,800 hectares takes the total project area to 5,000 hectares matching the land area in the initial airport proposal in 2004.

Villagers have been evicted and farmland obliterated for an aeropolis - an airport surrounded by massive commercial, industrial and residential development. Kertajati Airport is not being constructed to provide air services to an established urban area, but to spur aviation-based development on the farmland surrounding it.

The Kertajati Aerocity plan consists of components which are typical of similar aeropolis projects worldwide: hotels, shopping malls, conference and exhibition centres, entertainment complexes, business park, offices, industrial and warehousing areas, logistics and distribution facilities, and aviation ancillary industries including MRO and in-flight catering.

An "attractive incentives plan" - meaning big subsidies for investors - is promised. And Kertajti Aerocity is set to benefit from an additional form of subsidy: generation of non-aeronautical revenue from land allocated to the project.

BIJB intends to adopt the economic model which underpins the viability and growth of the world's largest established aeropolis projects like Frankfurt, Schiphol, Dallas / Fort Worth and Kuala Lumpur: non-aeronautical revenue from facilities on airport owned land cross-subsidises aeronautical operations, reducing fees for airlines thus encouraging them to use the airport.

Loss of farmland and violation of land acquisition laws

Videos made by BIJB show the progress of Kertajati Airport construction in the midst of a patchwork of green fields and bare earth where all vegetation has been stripped away and communities systematically erased.

Concerns have been raised over the food security implications of the loss of fertile Majalengka farmland to urban development, in particular the prospect of the loss of 5,000 hectares for Kertajati Airport and Aerocity. Rice and many other crops are cultivated on the site, including beans, peppers, watermelons and mangoes.

Social and economic problems also loom because of the loss of farmers' livelihoods. Loss of productive farmland for Kertajati Airport has also been called into question because West Java already has six airports which are not operating at full capacity.

KPA has called for investigation of credible allegations of corrupt land acquisition practices. Farmers resisting eviction for Kertajati Airport have protested an inaccurate environmental impact assessment (EIA) which stated lower crop yields than are actually harvested, resulting in a lower valuation of their land.

One way in which land prices are being manipulated, which indicates corruption in the land acquisition process, is the erection of 'ghost houses' on land earmarked for the airport. These hastily erected structures, walls made of plywood and unoccupied, are built to raise the sale price of the land.

KPA called on President Widodo to ensure that constitutional agrarian land-use laws, stipulating that land must be used for the benefit of the people, are upheld, highlighting the Aerocity component of the project in particular as failing to comply with laws that development must be in the public interest.

A military component and megaproject complex

The emerging aeropolis has a significant military component.

Indonesia's state owned aerospace manufacturer, PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI), a firm servicing both civilian and military aircraft, intends to relocate from its current location in Bandung to a larger 300 hectare site on the land surrounding Kertajati Airport, anticipating that the new facility will be operational by 2019.

And the aeropolis has spawned a power plant megaproject in order to meet its prodigious energy requirements. An electricity supply currently under construction will be sufficient to supply Kertajati Airport, but not the adjoining Aerocity, so a 190 hectare energy complex is planned.

Kertajati Airport and Aerocity is just one of 84 large scale infrastructure projects planned in West Java, including power plants, ports and roads, criticized by environmental forum WALHI West Java for destruction of farmland and triggering social conflict.

Dianto Bachradi, Vice Chair of Komnas HAM (the Indonesian Commission for Human Rights), has highlighted the private sector interests served by megaprojects.

Specifically regarding airports he points out that employment opportunities for local people facing the loss of their livelihood from agriculture would be restricted to poor quality jobs such as baggage handler or parking attendant, and that the project is for the benefit of large companies, not the local community.

A government funded project

Land acquisition, displacement of villagers, destruction of farmland, earthworks, construction of the runway, taxiway, apron and access road have proceeded with repeated injections of government funds, yet in the absence of confirmed financing to actually complete construction of the first stage of the airport in order to commence operations.

The most optimistic of a series of announcements of imminent foreign investment was made in December 2015 by BIJB President Director Virda Dimas Ekaputra. He claimed that no less than 40 domestic and foreign investors - from Switzerland, Turkey, Germany, Qatar and India - had expressed interest in development of ground infrastructure, such as the terminal.

By September 2016 none of this foreign investment had materialized and a BIJB announcement on financing stated that the first phase of airport construction would be funded by mutual funds including the social security agency for labour, a financing scheme underwritten by state owned financial services firm Danareksa.

Whilst this funding scheme would spare the government from direct expenditure on construction of Kertajati Airport the state would be liable for the debt incurred.

In February 2017 the Jakarta Post reported that Kertajati Airport was making slow progress with obtaining funding to complete construction of its initial phase and commence operations. A $40.3 million capital injection from the West Java government had provided nearly a quarter of the funds required but possible funding from the regional government, sale of mutual funds and a loan from state-owned Bank Mandiri had yet to be confirmed.

Support and solidarity

In the wake of the barbaric police attack Sukamulya residents resisting eviction met with a wave of support and solidarity from all over Indonesia.

A KPA petition to President Widodo, demanding immediate cancellation of the Kertajati Airport project, withdrawal of security forces, release of people who had been detained, an end to repression, intimidation and criminalisation of people resisting eviction and investigation of human rights violations at the site, garnered support from FPRS and 22 other organisations.

The government continues to push Kertajati Airport and BIJB has stated that operations will commence by June 2018, in spite of only having acquired 1,000 of the 1,800 hectares of the land it insists are necessary for the airport.

BIJB president director Virda Dimas Ekaputra said that the land procurement process would continue in spite of resistance. But opposition to loss of homes, farmland and livelihoods for Kertajati Airport remains solid.

KPA maintains that 1,478 Sukamulya families are still refusing to sell their land, the same number as in November 2016 when the violent police raid took place.



Rose Bridger (@RoseKBridger) is a founder member of the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM).

Books: Rose is the author of Plane Truth: Aviation's Real Impact on People and the Environment, published by Pluto Press.

Other airport / aeropolis projects in Indonesia - graphic by GAAM.

More BIJP videos on their Youtube channel.

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