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JAKARTA: The Indonesian government recently signed legislation to move forward with plans to move the capital from Jakarta to a jungle site in East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, but the massive $32 million project dollars is causing concern among indigenous communities in the region.

The capital’s potential change has been discussed for decades, as Jakarta, a megacity of 10 million people, faces chronic traffic congestion, regular flooding and heavy pollution. It is also one of the fastest sinking cities in the world, with its northern suburbs falling by around 25 centimeters per year. It is estimated that a third of Jakarta could be submerged by 2050.

However, rights groups have warned that the new state capital law aimed at easing Jakarta’s burden was rushed in without consultation.

Pradarma Rupang of the environmental group Mining Advocacy Network, or JATAM, said the government has long ignored a number of critical issues in Borneo’s New Capital Region, including access to clean water. He added that local residents have so far largely depended on rainwater.

“This capital policy was taken without scientific study,” he said. “The process was reckless, lacked participation and was not based on dialogue with the population.

“The indigenous population is not visible at all 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 Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago, told Arab News.

According to data from the alliance, at least 20,000 people from 21 indigenous groups live in the area that has been designated for the new city.

The law authorizing the start of construction was passed by the Indonesian parliament last week. It explains how the development of the new city will be financed and governed. Planning Minister Suharso Monoarfa announced at the time that the new capital would be called Nusantara, which translates to “archipelago” in Old Javanese.

“The new capital has a central function and is a symbol of the nation’s identity, as well as a new center of economic gravity,” the minister told a parliamentary session.

By building a purpose-built capital, Indonesia will follow a path that two other Southeast Asian countries – Malaysia and Myanmar – have taken over the past two decades.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo officially launched the relocation project in 2019, in what was widely seen as an attempt to seal his legacy before the end of his second and final term until 2024. The new capital law of the state 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 around 60% of the country’s population and more than half of the economic activity. While the current capital is expected to remain Indonesia’s commercial and financial center, its administration will move to the new city, about 2,000 kilometers northeast of Jakarta. The relocation process is expected to be completed by 2045.

The government said initial planning was done 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 in Borneo have grown since plans to relocate the capital were made public. Indigenous communities living nearby have also expressed concerns about construction impacts.

Riri Al-Kahfi, a 29-year-old man who lives in the port town of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, where the new town will be located, told Arab News there were growing fears over the survival local cultures.

“Our hope is that the massive development of the new capital will not erase the culture and diversity of Kalimantan, especially in areas close to the new capital,” she said, adding that the construction of the city could contribute to equitable economic development. in Indonesia.

“We hope the positive impact will be felt by local communities, perhaps empowering local youth and giving them opportunities in the new capital.”