Villagers suffer price of development amid airport project

IN December 2021, Kediri, East Java, will welcome Dhoho airport.

The first-ever Indonesian airport to be fully funded by the private sector, its construction has not been without controversy.

Its land-acquisition process has created friction with many local residents unwilling to move from their homes.

The blazing-hot air mixed with swirling dust stifled everything. The roar of engines from construction vehicles was endless as Tugiyem, who lived in the area, stared at the mountain of dredged rocks.

“It’s been a year of listening to this cacophony (airport construction), every day, from day to night, ” the 77-year-old said.

Tugiyem is one of the few villagers left in Mbandrek Selatan, Grogol, Kediri – one of a number of villages purchased by PT Gudang Garam for the airport construction.

Tugiyem used to work as a grazier. She had to stop after the company fenced off the land she worked on. Her livestock are dying because she can no longer feed them.

Desperate, she would try to enter the land anyway, climbing through the fence, but the challenge became too much.

“Sometimes those backhoes seemed to be deliberately digging next to me. Sometimes, (people working for the company) kicked me out. I gave up, ” said Tugiyem, who has lived there since the 1960s.

The construction started in the middle of 2020. The project is a multi-airport system developed for the East Java region and is expected to be finished by 2023.

Several villages have been demolished for the project: Tarokan, Tiron, Bangkan, Jatirejo and Grogol. The once-busy villages are now quiet as most of their inhabitants have left, their land bought by the company.Sri Katun, 50, who lives in Grogol, said villagers were tempted by the “large amount of money, ” though she declined to mention numbers.

“Here, the majority of the people work as farmers. How much do they earn? So, when there was an offer from the airport project, they accepted it. But, in consequence, they had to move far away, ” she continued, adding that most bought new houses in areas where they could not continue farming.

One of the main roads leading into and out of Grogol village has been closed off to ease construction.

This has forced farmers who needed to bring their crops to the city to take a longer route.

It was not only a matter of distance, those who had food stalls and shops near the main road had to shut down. The road closure limited access for prospective customers.

Within a month after access was closed off, four shops went bankrupt. The ones that survive rely on neighbours as customers.

Siti Anggirawan, 25, was forced to close the textile shop in her parents’ house, where she resides. She has tried switching to online shopping but has not done well. The mother-of-one wants to move, but her parents do not allow her to leave.

“The challenges just keep on coming, ” she said, referring to the pandemic and road closure, ” she said.

The villagers also face limited access around the village that used to be theirs.

A metal fence stands starkly on the left side of Grogol. It has been put up there by the company, ostensibly to limit trespassing and reduce pollution in the village due to the construction.

Sri Katun sits on a lounge chair in front of her grocery store, waiting for customers. She coughs several times. Sri said since the construction began, the air quality in her village had deteriorated.

“When a strong wind blows, construction dust drifts into the house. I often cough. Tell them to finish their project faster, please. Let our lives return to normal.”

It is no place to live, but Sri has no thoughts of giving up the land she has been living on, having bought it after years of hard work and saving up with her husband. For Sri, selling the house would mean giving up all of her family’s memories.

“Especially, for (us) Javanese people, the land (you acquire and live on) is something sacred. It cannot be bought and sold easily. This house is witness to my ups and downs alongside my husband. We want to die on this land that has been part of our history, ” Sri said. — The Jakarta Post/ANN

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