V. Shanti, 48, a third-generation former estate worker from Ladang Bukit Jalil, in Bandar Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur got to meet Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak recently.
She was relieved that her request to meet Najib to discuss the fate of the remaining estate workers was granted.
Shanti, her husband K. Balakrish-nan, 55, and another estate worker K. Paramasivam, 55, spent 45 minutes with Najib at his office in Putrajaya on July 12.
“He was patient, attentive and kind to us,” she told a group of residents gathered outside her wooden house in the 80-year-old rubber estate that evening.
“He assured us that we did not have to move until a decision was reached on the matter,” said Shanti as tears welled in her eyes.
The courts had decided in favour of Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to strike out a suit filed by the 41 families still living in the estate, to stop an order to demolish their houses.
The fact that Najib had agreed to see them in spite of the court’s decision had given the residents hope that their dream to live in their own houses was still possible.
“I have nambikei (faith) in him (Najib),” said A. Nyanameh.
“I told my daughter, Shanti to go and talk to him because he understands the meaning of nambikei,” said the 78-year-old.
“If only I was younger, I would have gone myself,” added the spunky grandmother.
Nyanameh started tapping rubber in the estate when she was only 13 years old.
“Being so young, we were unaware of the perils that come with the job. We only had a head-light to light the path before us and became easy targets for poisonous snake,” recalled the former estate worker.
“Once I went to tap rubber with a good friend but she never returned. Days later her body was found in the bushes. She had fallen and bled to death,” Nyanameh said.
“These rubber trees that surround us today are the only witness to our toils and struggles tapping rubber to eke out a living. The government must do the right thing by keeping their promises,” she said, adding that Najib was their only hope.
Forty-one families had filed a suit in March last year, seeking a declaration that they had equity in the 1.6ha land in the estate in Bandar Tun Razak. They argued that three generations of the families had been working as estate workers on the land.
The land was acquired by the government from the estate owner in 1980. However, the then Kuala Lumpur mayor succeeded in his bid to strike out a suit by paving the way for DBKL to evict them.
Like Nyanemah, Chelli Ramasamy, 73, and K. Ponni, 62, were just teenagers when they first arrived in the estates decades ago.
Ponni said: “We came legally, this is what I keep telling my grandchildren. They must know the truth.
“We were brought in with all the legal documents to work here. We willingly toiled all day because we regard this place as our home. and we should be rewarded the way developers of the neighbouring Kinrara estate had done for ex-workers there,” said Ponni.
She said when the Kinrara estate was closed down, the developer had given their ex-workers a terrace house each for free.
“If Kinrara, a private developer was able to be compassionate, we expect more from the government who took over our estate,” said Ponni.
For the estate workers, theirs is a tale of anguish and fear ever since they were labelled as squatters when the government via City Hall used the Clearance of Squatters Regulations Act 1969 to evict them two years ago. The demolition order was cancelled at the eleventh hour when the local authority realised their mistake.
But their request for proper housing and compensation has so far been unsuccessful.
The residents have rejected DBKL’s offer of low-cost flats at RM42,000 as they insist on getting terrace houses.
“We are too old to buy or finance the low-cost DBKL flats, hence the government must consider these factors when they look into our plight,” she said.
Another problem faced by some estate workers was that the offer of low-cost units were only for married couples or those with children.
M. Ayakanoo, 55, was offered RM11,000 as compensation but was not offered a unit because he was told that being a bachelor he was not entitled to housing.
“When I run out of money, I will become a homeless man, and I will surely die on the streets a vagrant,” he lamented.
Estate workers also believe that their chances of getting their dream homes is stronger now after reading reports in the media of the 18 families who lost their homes in the Kampung Buah Pala incident in Penang receiving the keys to their new houses recently.
The 18 families of the now demolished Kampung Buah Pala finally have a place to call home, thanks to the Government’s efforts to house them in a new housing estate.
Balakrishnan, 55. said he had also passed Najib a copy of an old housing scheme which was introduced by Najib’s father and former Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak called Estate Workers Revolving Fund for House Ownership in 1973 to help estate workers buy their dream homes.
“Tun Razak insisted that developers must build terrace houses for workers. The scheme allowed workers to buy the houses and pay through salary deductions – but the plan failed to take off because it was not a government policy and no one enforced it,” he said.
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