27 January 2007

Eviction is the ‘Solution’: an Illusion to Govern

Dewi Susanti


AN ARTICLE in Kompas daily January 23, 2007 entitled “Mimpi Buruk Setelah 28 Tahun” (Nightmare after 28 Years) featured an eviction of 136 houses and 200 kiosks in Pedongkelan, Kelapa Gading area of North Jakarta by some 1,500 government officials. The area was illegally turned into vendors’ market some 28 years ago, and now with the plan to turn it into a flyover, the buildings were bulldozed over, leaving many inhabitants lose not only a place to live, but a place to earn a living.

Is there no other actual solution to overcome distribution of urban space but through eviction? I would argue that finding actual solutions are very possible, but they largely depend on the political will of those with power, i.e. the decision makers, be it government or private enterprises.

In a recent trip to Bangkok to conduct a research on public participation in urban planning and the rights of urban poor to urban space, conducted on behalf of the Institute of Ecosoc Rights, I met with various NGOs, government officials, academics, and community members. The consistent finding among all groups is that land disputes between illegal occupants and Thai government, both at local and national level*, most likely end with negotiated solutions that benefit both parties. This negotiation process also happens with private lands, although the rate of success is much lower than public lands, as success is almost always related to the benevolence of the land owners.

Three of the communities I visited squatted down lands that belonged to Railway Authority. Tubkaew community was threatened by eviction when the Railway Authority decided to develop the land they squatted on to make railway connection between Bangkok and the new Suvarnabhumi airport. The Railway Authority gave not only compensation based on the quality and size of the houses they demolished, but they gave the community a land close by the previous area to lease for 30-year period. Each member of the community was given around 40 meter square, which they distributed among themselves, and the whole community shared payment for open space and playgroup. The same happened to Wat Chong Leom and Bangramad communities who also squatted on Railway Authority lands.

Two other communities I visited, Bang Bua and Ruam Samakee, were developed under the widely-acclaimed Baan Mankong (Secure Housing) program conducted by Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI), a government unit under the Ministry of Social and Human Rights. An interview with CODI’s Director, Somsook Boonnyabancha, revealed that the program aimed to develop communities’ bargaining power by establishment of saving groups and organizations within and between communities. CODI’s solution to housing problems ranges from on-site upgrading, re-blocking, land sharing, or relocation, in addition to giving long-term loans to community with problems (defined as those facing eviction, very poor, or regularly flooded) so they can pay for either long-term rents and/or construction of houses.

Compare these Bangkok examples with the case of Pedongkelan, Jakarta, in which the government provided relocation area not too far from there, but in the size of two meters by 1.8 meter per inhabitant, or less than four meters sq, an area too small for most to move into. From the Kompas article, it was not clear if the occupants received any compensation from the government, but it was clear that they did not even received notification for the eviction, and most ended up losing their properties, opportunities to work, and rights to live in the city.

With the persistence of eviction by the government of Jakarta, it seems indeed that eviction has become the one ‘solution’ to overcome the bigger problem of rights for living and working in a city that should be made possible for all. Yet, is eviction a ‘solution’? Or is it just an illusion of the government that by evicting illegal inhabitants, the people and ‘their’ problem will just go away?**

*The communities I visited squatted on lands that belong to Bangkok Metropolitan Authority, Railway Authority, Port Authority, Treasury Department, Crown Property Bureau.

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