Indonesia: Kalimantan Villagers Lodge Land Claim Against BHP Billiton Coal Project

Date of publication: 
14 June 2015

“We welcome mining as long as they respect our way of life, our livelihood, our customary land. When they don’t, we’ll fight to the end,” says village headman Suwanto.

Murung Raya, Central Kalimantan. Villagers in remote Central Kalimantan have lodged a claim for legal title to 1,000 hectares of land within BHP Billiton’s vast IndoMet coal project area under a new land rights scheme in the province.

The residents of Maruwei, one of the closest villages to IndoMet’s “first stage” Haju mine, have mapped the boundaries of the 1,000-hectare area in question using GPS and computerized mapping systems, and submitted detailed documentation of the claim to the Central Kalimantan government on Friday.

With the Haju mine due to start operating in August, Maruwei’s headman described the process of preparing the claim as a “race” to preserve this section of the community’s customary land, which is used for cultivating rice, rubber and crops.

“When BHP comes, it will be a restricted area,” headman Suwanto tells the Jakarta Globe, through an interpreter. “So we have to race against BHP to claim this land under the Dayak Misik scheme.”

Dayak Misik, introduced by the Central Kalimantan government in 2014, is a program that aims to recognize the customary land rights of the province’s indigenous Dayak inhabitants by delivering title for 10 hectares of land to every village for communal use and five hectares to each household.

The success of the program will depend on the national government agreeing to excise the customary land from forestry estates and certify communities’ ownership.

While the national government has so far proven more interested in supporting companies it has issued concessions to than local communities, commentators believe the Dayak Misik scheme, together with an inventory of customary land rights that the Central Kalimantan government has been compiling with NGOs and Dayak communities, will strengthen the communities’ position in relation to their land rights.

“The mapping exercise has created a stronger political pressure on the national government to recognize customary lands and customary rights to land,” says Nanang Indra Kurniawan, a lecturer at the School of Politics and Government at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University, who is researching the Central Kalimantan government’s customary land rights programs. “This pressure has been increasing following the Constitutional Court decision on customary forests in 2013.”

The village of Maruwei, which is within 15 kilometers of two existing coal mines, has already experienced significant land loss and environmental impacts from mining, and around half its 700 inhabitants oppose the new IndoMet mine.

But Suwanto, while wary of further pollution and loss of land, is open to the jobs and benefits the project can bring.

“We welcome mining as long as they respect our way of life, our livelihood, our customary land. When they don’t, we’ll fight to the end,” he says.

There is still widespread discontent in Maruwei over events nearly a decade ago that saw villagers accept token payments from BHP for another area of customary forest the company acquired for the mine.

Residents say they were threatened with arrest if they did not agree to compensation of Rp 100 (1 US cent at the exchange rate back then) per square meter for the area, which they had used for generations but which was technically state land.

Nanang says that confrontations such as this are increasingly common in Indonesia.

“The growing demand for land for oil palm plantations and mining in Indonesia has led to land acquisition and the violation of indigenous and local peoples’ rights,” he says. “There are a growing number of cases in which state [officials] have been used by companies to persuade people to leave their lands, or to remove them by force. We have also seen how some companies have even directly contracted [the] Indonesian police for securing their operation areas.”

According to the Jakarta-based Consortium for Agrarian Reform (KPA), over the last decade 85 people have been killed, 110 have been shot, 633 have been injured and 1,395 jailed around Indonesia as a result of land conflicts, in which poor people were frequently “criminalized.”

The KPA recorded a more than 100 percent increase in 2014, from 105 to 215 incidents, in conflicts relating to infrastructure development under the Masterplan for Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development (MP3EI).

The MP3EI, which is aimed at transforming Indonesia into an “advanced economy” by 2025, designated Kalimantan a mining and energy corridor, one of six economic corridors in the republic, and promoted the construction of a railway to transport coal from the IndoMet area in Central Kalimantan.

The IndoMet project, a joint venture between Australian miner BHP Billiton and Indonesia’s Adaro Energy, covers 350,000 hectares of coal-mining concessions across Central and East Kalimantan, which are estimated to contain more than 1.25 billion metric tons of thermal and coking coal.

The project is expected to open up a new frontier in coal mining inside the internationally agreed Heart of Borneo conservation zone if the construction of the railway goes ahead.

Last month, activists delivered a petition containing 9,000 signatures to BHP Billiton headquarters in both Melbourne and London, calling on the company to withdraw from the project.


Resentment Lingers in Village ‘Tricked’ Out of Its Land

By Jenny Denton –

14 June 2015

A family in Maruwei village, Central Kalimantan, where residents have reported being forced to accept token sums from BHP Billiton in exchange for their customary forest. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Taylor/World Development Movement)

Murung Raya, Central Kalimantan. Residents of the village of Maruwei in Central Kalimantan claim they were tricked and intimidated in relation to BHP Billiton’s acquisition of an area of their land for the first stage of the IndoMet coal project a decade ago.

According to Maruwei village secretary Timor Banafi, villagers started clearing small trees and shrubs from an area of their customary forest which was to be compulsorily acquired for the mine because they believed they would be entitled to compensation for it if there was evidence the land was being cultivated.

Then at a meeting in 2005 a BHP Billiton community relations officer gave them the impression the company would pay more for land that was also cleared of trees.

Although the company representative did not explicitly mention payment and in fact told villagers he was not advising them to cut down trees on the land, which would be illegal, he said BHP would be “more appreciative” of land that was logged, which would “make things easier” for the company, Banafi told the Jakarta Globe last year.

After the meeting, more than 70 Maruwei families spent months cutting trees and clearing vegetation from a total area of 1,600 hectares, according to Banafi, and while BHP was aware of the land-clearing going on, the company did nothing for several months, after which it reported the activity to government authorities.

When village leaders were finally called to a meeting with government and company representatives to discuss payment, they were informed that the land they had cleared was technically state forest and that BHP would make only “goodwill payments” of Rp 1 million ($103 at the exchange rate back then) per hectare for it.

There are differing accounts of the sequence of events that led to most villagers whose land was acquired signing the compensation agreement, but several people said they only accepted the deal because police came to the village and threatened them with arrest.
Eren Frid, the late head of the Maruwei village assembly, said residents were tricked and threatened into selling their land for the equivalent of 1 US cent per square meter. (JG Photo/Jenny Denton)

Eren Frid, the late head of the Maruwei village assembly, said residents were tricked and threatened into selling their land for the equivalent of 1 US cent per square meter. (JG Photo/Jenny Denton)

“The company asked us to cut the trees and clear the land and said they would buy it with a good price,” Eren Frid, the former head of the Maruwei village assembly, told the Globe. “But in fact when it was cut and cleared the price was only Rp 100 per square meter.

“Many people didn’t want to sell the land at that price but the government came with police and told us we had to sell it to the company because if not we would be arrested,” he added.

Eren passed away recently.

“We were afraid not to sell the land because the police came,” Maruwei residents Regina and Arayati said, “and many people said ‘It’s state land and you have to sell it.’”

Some villagers claimed several people who expressed opposition to the compensation price were picked up by police and held in jail for a short time for illegal logging.

There were also allegations that several leaders received payments of Rp 30 million each from BHP after the majority of villagers whose customary land was acquired by the company had signed the agreement.

BHP Billiton has said its activities in relation to land acquisitions in the area were “at all times undertaken in accordance with legal and ethical business practices” and that decisions were made “transparently and based on consensus decision making by landowners.”

Compensation payments were guided by government-based guidelines, the company said in a statement, “in a manner consistent with BHP Billiton’s commitment to ethics and integrity.”

The company did not address specific allegations put to it about payments made to leaders and the actions of its community relations officer.

The loss of forests for hunting and land for cultivation due to the operations of mining companies in the area has had significant impacts on people’s livelihoods in Maruwei, where many live in relative poverty.