Business as usual on a reclaimed islet off Jakarta — despite closure order

  • A food court is up and running and homes are being built on an artificial island that the Jakarta administration had ordered shut last year.
  • The islet is one of 17 planned as part of a reclamation project in Jakarta Bay that’s been widely opposed by fishing communities and environmental activists.
  • The city now says it will allow the operator of the food court to apply for a permit, despite having shut it down last July.
  • The administration also plans to build a bridge, not included in the original reclamation proposal, that a fishing community says will disrupt its access to traditional fishing grounds.

JAKARTA — Construction and commercial activities have quietly resumed on a land reclamation project that was ordered stopped by the Jakarta governor last year, prompting criticism of the authorities’ lack of oversight.

A food court began operating last December on one of the artificial islets built in Jakarta Bay, and construction of homes deemed illegal has resumed on the same islet, activists and local media report.

Islet D, as it’s known, is one of four reclaimed islands completed just off the coast of the Indonesian capital. Reclamation of 13 other islets, none of them complete yet, was stopped last October by Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan. Anies withdrew the permits for those islets on the grounds that the developers had failed to pay tax or obtain environmental impact assessments, and said the islets that were already completed would be taken over by the city and used in the public interest.

But it’s now come to light that private operators have reopened a once-sealed food court on Islet D and started running it. It remains open as of the time of writing.

“They built the food court quietly, when people were busy traveling outside Jakarta for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” Susan Herawati, secretary-general of the NGO Coalition for Fisheries Justice (KIARA), told Mongabay. “It popped up out of nowhere.”

KIARA was one of several organizations that for years led the opposition to the plan to build new islands in Jakarta Bay, saying that it threatened the livelihoods of the largely impoverished fishing communities living along the city’s north shore. The project was launched in 2014 by the national government as part of a wider plan to mitigate the high rate of land subsidence in Jakarta as seawater encroaches further inland.

Under the terms of the city’s takeover of Islet D and the three other completed islands — C, G and N — all commercial activity on the islands was meant to cease, at least pending a new zoning bylaw for the islets.

The food court was initially shut in June last year while still under construction. In all, the city sealed off 932 buildings on the islet, including 409 residential and 212 office units.

But as with the food court, houses on Islet D, as well as Islet C, continue to be built, local media reported, quoting a fisherman.

“At noon, [the construction] stops,” Kalil Charliem told in January. “At night, the activities [resume]. If they’re caught by reporters, they’ll stop. Later they’ll resume again.”

The news outlet reported that some of the two-story houses on Islet D were priced between $240,000 and $442,000.

“Who can afford to buy a house at that price? Definitely not the fishermen or common people like me,” Susan said.

Construction taking place on Islet G, a part of the reclamation project on the Jakarta Bay. Image by Sapariah Saturi/Mongabay Indonesia.

Campaign promise

Shutting down the reclamation project was one of Anies’s key programs when he ran for governor in 2017. He won the election in part due to support from fishermen and other coastal communities, who worried the reclamation would close off their fishing sites and benefit only the wealthy developers lining up to stake a claim to the new land. Environmental activists also criticized the project, saying it would harm the ecosystem and threaten livelihoods.

As governor, it took Anies a year to make good on his promise to shut down the project. But the fact that activity resumed just two months later is a damning indictment of the administration, Susan said.

“Anies is the one who’s most responsible, because Jakarta residents voted for him based on the belief that he could stop the project,” she said. “Why else did we bother to vote for him? He shirked his responsibility and only used the fishermen for their votes.”

Asked about the food court being up and running, Anies initially said he didn’t know whether it had the necessary permits. He later confirmed that it didn’t. (This after he had explicitly ordered it shut last July.) The food court’s operator has since applied for a permit; the city’s public order agency, which is responsible for shutting down businesses operating without permits, has said it will wait until after the city has processed the permit request before taking any action.

Anies also tried to deflect criticism of his administration’s lack of oversight on the matter, pointing to other food courts operating without permits in the city. “Why is no attention being paid to those ones?” he said as quoted by news outlet Tempo.

“His statement shows his lack of commitment to [ending the project],” Susan said. She said the fact that he hadn’t shut down the four completed islands altogether — on the basis that the city would manage them in the public interest, including by building recreational facilities and a public beach — was merely to justify the continuation of the reclamation project.

“That’s what makes us sad; we’re being forced to accept the reclamation because the government says it’s too late to stop it,” she said.

If Anies is truly committed to ending the reclamation, he should order all buildings on the islets to be demolished, according to Susan.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan (middle) poses during a groundbreaking ceremony of the construction of public facilities for the Jakarta Bay reclamation project. Image by North Jakarta information department/

A bridge too far

Instead, the governor plans to build some more. One of the public facilities that he’s promised is a bridge connecting Islet C to Dadap Beach in Tangerang district, on the western outskirts of Jakarta. Construction of the 1.4-kilometer (0.9-mile) bridge is scheduled to start in March and expected to finish next year.

The plan has been criticized by fishing communities in Dadap, who say the bridge, running across the estuary on the beach, will disrupt their traditional sailing route.

“The estuary is our vessels’ main access for us to go out to sea,” Waesul Qurni, the head of a fishermen’s association in Dadap, told Tempo last year.

He added none of the fishermen there were invited to a public consultation held last October to discuss the environmental impact of the bridge.

In response to the fishermen’s criticism, Anies said last year that he would look into the matter and was open to scrapping the bridge project if necessary.

But local officials say all the permits are in order for the project to proceed. Nurmutaqqin, the zoning chief at the public works agency in Banten province, where Tangerang is located, said the construction of the bridge wouldn’t disrupt the activities of the local fishermen or harm the mangrove forests in the area.

“We have to make sure that the fishermen and the marine ecosystem remain protected,” he said.

KIARA’s Susan said she was skeptical about the project’s paperwork being in order, or that it wouldn’t harm the fishermen and the environment.

“According to the original map of the reclamation project, there’s not supposed to be a bridge,” she said. “The reclamation itself has already altered the environment. So if you add in a bridge, that’s going to impact the coastal communities.”

She also said the fishermen relied on coastal landmarks for wayfinding, and that the presence of the bridge would disrupt this.

“Most of our fishermen don’t use GPS systems,” Susan said. “They rely on their memories. To find their way home, they usually look for lamps and other signs, such as trees. If there’s a huge bridge, how can they see the usual signs?

“That’s what the government fails to understand,” she added. “It never understands that our fishermen have their own unique way to protect their seas.”


Banner image: An illustration showing the 17 artificial islands, part of the planned Jakarta Bay reclamation development project. Image courtesy of FISIP Universitas Indonesia.

This story first appeared on Mongabay

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