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The unfortunate ones of Ladang Bukit Jalil

 | July 27, 2011

After living in the estate all their lives, the government now wants to take over the land and shunt them into cubicles called high-rise flats.

FEATURE

PETALING JAYA: There is something whimsical about Ladang Bukit Jalil. The houses still have chimneys, and the roads that lead to these homes look like something out of an Enid Blyton book. The houses are simple, but spacious and sitting inside one of them will make you oblivious to the scorching heat. It seems an idyllic, placid place; nothing about it says that the 41 families residing there are in danger of losing their homes.

But today, however, they have chosen fun over fret, forgetting the bulldozers, local authorities and the police, just to mention a few of their daily concerns. Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) is invoking the Emergency Ordinance (1969) to evict the 41 families who still reside there, which their lawyer claims is illegal as they are licensed former estate workers.

The foot-high grass has been cut, the tents are up and sound-system plays the latest Tamil hit songs. A row of chairs have been arranged on the still dewy ground for guests and behind this is a table where simple prizes await the children who will win the sporting games a little later. Some are seen already picking out what they think might be theirs for the taking. One child is overheard saying this to a her friend, “Don’t worry. If I win the colour pencils, I will share them with you.”

There is an indelible sense of camaraderie and companionship, not to mention an enviable feeling of security for anyone who chooses to either live there or just stop by for a visit because that’s the kind of people who live in the Bukit Jalil Estate.

For the moment, several students from various local universities are enjoying the hospitality of the entire village. Organised by the Persatuan Pelajar India Malaysia (MISA), the young people are here as part of the Projek 3C (Community Care Circle). This is an effort to encourage better understanding and appreciation of these students for the hardship endured primarily by estate dwellers and other sidelined communities.

“About a month before the project began, MISA visited with the residents and told them about the programme. We want them to know that it’s not about making speeches but doing what needs to be done. The students who will be staying with the residents for two weeks will assist the residents with daily duties while carrying out their own findings on personal experiences of living in the estate,” said Gobi Krishnan, MISA vice-president-cum-organising committee chairman.

And there will be plenty for the students to discover, more so now with the land tussle that is taking place.

A fraction of what’s left

Ladang Bukit Jalil was previously all of 1,800 acres when the government first acquired the estate. “Was” because now it’s down to a paltry 26 acres, with much of the land sold off to private developers such as Berjaya group, Island and Peninsular and Ho Hup.

The Bukit Jalil National Stadium stands on part of this land as does a detention centre for undocumented migrant workers, luxury houses, tolled highways and golf courses, among others. And while all this development was taking place, no concessions were made for these people who had stayed at the estate for the longest time – some for up to 80 years.

Now, only 26 acres of land remain, and there is talk of even this being needed for a burial park. There is a private developer by the name of Bukit Jalil Development Sdn Bhd, waiting to acquire the final bit of land. This private company is allegedly linked to a former Datuk Bandar of Kuala Lumpur, during whose tenure the Ladang Bukit Jalil workers were branded squatters and received notices under the Emergency Ordinance (Clearance of Squatters Regulation) 1969.

In spite of all this, the residents are just asking for four acres of land to house the 41 families which comprise about 160 people. This request has of course been ignored and there are plans to move the families into the tight quarters of high-rise flats.

The residents have been refused the four acres.

About a week into the 3C project, about 30 DBKL and 10 Special Branch officers paid Ladang Bukit Jalil a visit and so did the tractors.

Sivashangari Veloo, a 23-year-old accountancy student from Universiti Tun Abdul Razak, admits that seeing this frightened her initially. “It also made me sad to realise that there are many of us who take our homes for granted when here, they are defending theirs.” Her friend, K Durgashini, was just surprised to find a rubber estate in the Klang Valley. “And it’s not like what I imagined it to be either,” she says.

Gobi says that the difference between Ladang Bukit Jalil and most other similar dwellings is that this one is more of an urban estate. There are rubber trees, but the residents have stopped tapping rubber for a livelihood and only do it to preserve something that is an inherent part of their culture.

You will find a Hindu temple, a Tamil school, a self-contained grocery store, and a community centre ensconced among the quaint wooden houses.

“Some quarters have accused the residents of rejecting modernisation. They aren’t doing any such thing. All they want to do is retain their heritage and culture and live on a land that they have called home for over 80 years. Many of the residents hold good jobs in the city, but prefer to live in the estate,” he says.

A tale of two plantations

Ladang Bukit Jalil is also a tale of two plantations owned by the same company: the Bukit Jalil Estate Agencies (Kinrara Group Estates Sdn Bhd). One estate was acquired by the government, while the other was not, and stayed in private ownership.

The one which was not acquired by the government – Kinrara Estate – gave land and built low-cost terrace houses for its workers. Each worker only needed to fork out about RM5,000 to purchase a house. Other facilities, such as temples and schools, were retained.

What has been given to the workers in the estate acquired by the government, Ladang Bukit Jalil, is in stark contrast.

The workers were not offered low-cost terraced houses and were told to move to high-rise, low-cost flats. Worse still, the government had milked the workers of their remaining labour for another 15 years without paying them EPF, Socso and retirement benefits.

“And after this, the government tells them to get out because the residents are now deemed squatters?” Gobi asks incredulously

Recently, Human Resources Minister Dr S Subramaniam worked out two compensation packages for the now ex-workers, amounting to RM11,000 for some and RM23,000 for others, based on the 15 years they were denied these statutory benefits.

It seems that if the government had not acquired Ladang Bukit Jalil, the ex-workers would have received the same or better benefits like their more fortunate counterparts in Ladang Kinrara, and would now be living on their own landed property.

Up to the 1980s, income from rubber and oil palm played a major role in financing the development of our country. The country prospered and plantation companies reaped huge profits, while plantation workers lived in abject poverty and deprivation generated by below-poverty-line wages and the most backward of wage structures.

Seeing this for what it truly is, four-acres of land as a social wage to compensate for their contribution towards the nation is surely not too much to ask for.


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