JAKARTA: The Indonesian government recently signed a law to move ahead with its plan to relocate the capital from Jakarta to a jungle site in East Kalimantan on Borneo island, but the massive $32 million project is raising concerns among the region’s indigenous communities.
The potential change in capital city has been under discussion for decades, since Jakarta, a megacity of 10 million people, faces chronic traffic congestion, regular flooding and heavy pollution. It is also one of the world’s fastest sinking cities, with its northern suburbs falling at an estimated 25 centimeters per year. It is estimated that one-third of Jakarta could be submerged by 2050.
However, rights groups have warned that the new state capital law aimed at easing the burden on Jakarta was rushed without consultation.
Pradarma Rupang of environmental group Mining Advocacy Network, or JATAM, said the government has long ignored a number of critical issues in the new capital region in Borneo, including access to clean water. He added that local residents have until now largely depended on rainwater.
“This capital policy was taken without a scientific study,” he said. “The process has been reckless, lacking in participation, and was not based on dialogue with the people.
“The indigenous population is not at all visible in the new state capital law. While on the ground, the existence of the indigenous population is very clear,” Erasmus Cahyadi, deputy secretary general of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago, told Arab News.
According to the alliance’s data, at least 20,000 people from 21 indigenous groups live in the area that has been designated for the new city.
The law permitting the start of construction was passed by the Indonesian parliament last week. It covers how the new city’s development will be funded and governed. Planning Minister Suharso Monoarfa announced at the time that new capital will be called Nusantara, which translates to “archipelago” in old Javanese.
“The new capital has a central function and is a symbol of the identity of the nation, as well as a new center of economic gravity,” the minister said during a parliamentary session.
In constructing a purpose-built capital, Indonesia will be following a path that two other Southeast Asian nations — Malaysia and Myanmar — have taken over the past two decades.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo formally launched the relocation project in 2019, in what has been widely viewed as an attempt to seal his legacy before the end of his second and final term in office until 2024. The new state capital law was approved last week, paving the way for construction to begin.
The megaproject also aims to redistribute wealth across Indonesia. Java, the island on which Jakarta is located, is home to about 60 percent of the country’s population and more than half of economic activity. While the current capital is set to remain Indonesia’s commercial and financial hub, its administration will move to the new city, about 2,000 kilometers northeast of Jakarta. The relocation process is scheduled for completion by 2045.
The government has said that initial planning had been carried out by clearing 56,180 hectares of land to build roads, the presidential palace, government offices and Parliament.
The region surrounding the Nusantara site is known for its deep jungles and various endangered animal species, including orangutans. Concerns over the future of wildlife on Borneo have grown since the plan to move the capital city was made public. Indigenous communities living nearby have also raised concerns over the impacts of construction.
Riri Al-Kahfi, a 29-year-old who lives in East Kalimantan’s seaport city of Balikpapan, where the new city will be located, told Arab News there are growing fears over the survival of local cultures.
“Our hope is that the massive development for the new capital won’t wipe away the culture and diversity in Kalimantan, especially in the regions close to the new capital city,” she said, but added that the city’s construction could help equitable economic development in Indonesia.
“We hope that the positive impact will be felt by the local communities, maybe through empowering local youth and giving them opportunities in the new capital city.”