Friday, August 20, 2010

Perak won't acquire Indian heritage land

By G Vinod - Free Malaysia Today

IPOH: A piece of heritage land in Sitiawan was on the radar screen of the Perak government for quite sometime. Last month, the state acted and gazetted it with the intention of acquiring the 2.2-hectare plot.

But the move came in for a lot of flak from the Indian community, especially from its Dindings Indian Association (DIA) and the DAP. The land belongs to the association.

Then on Tuesday, the state government made an abrupt about-turn: Perak Menteri Besar Zambry Abdul Kadir announced that the state will not acquire the land.

Since land is a state matter, the federal government yesterday said it too would not acquire the land if the menteri besar felt the acquisition could not be done.

Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran was delighted when he heard the announcement. He was at the forefront of the opposition against the acquisition. However, he is not letting down his guard.

“I want to get an official notice of the withdrawal,” he said.

Kulasegaran is well-versed in the history of the land. The piece of land had been collectively bought with contributions from pioneer Indian rubber tappers from the 35 estates in and around Sitiawan in the 1930s.

“My grandparents too contributed,” said Kulasegaran.

'Insensitive and unjust'

The problem arose when the state government last month proposed to gazette and acquire the land for the Education Ministry to redevelop  Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Simpang Empat located on the land.

The move was vehemently opposed by the DIA and Kulasegaran, who claimed the land is an Indian heritage land.

“We don't mind if the Education Ministry wants to redevelop the school, but we are against the state acquiring the whole land just for that purpose,” said the DAP vice-chairman.

The DAP veteran said the move to acquire the land was insensitive and unjust as the plot was bought by the Indian rubber tappers during the colonial days.

“They parted two Straits Settlement dollars from the 12 Straits Settlement dollars they earned monthly,” said Kulasegaran.

He said the Simpang Empat English School (as it was then known) was built on the land to educate the estate children.

He also questioned the state government's motive in acquiring the plot, saying that there are other lands available nearby.

“Just half a kilometre away from the DIA's land, there is an oil palm estate known as Sg Wangi Estate belonging to Sime Darby.

“Fifteen years ago, the Defence Ministry acquired some 150ha out of the 2,500ha (of the oil palm estate) to build an airport. Why didn't the state government acquire some hectares there too if land was what it was seeking?”

A state matter

For Kulasegaran, the dispute has not ended. He said he will still attend the Sitiawan land office hearing on Aug 25 and get an official notice over the state's withdrawal.

“We will continue asking the public to attend the hearing. We will also continue distributing pamphlets on the acquisition move from house to house,” he added.

Meanwhile, Human Resources Minister S Subramaniam said the Cabinet decided yesterday that the federal government will not acquire the plot of land belonging to DIA.

The MIC vice-president said the decision was taken after he raised the matter at the Cabinet meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the Education Minister.

“Since land is a state matter, the Cabinet and the deputy prime minister decided that if the Perak menteri besar felt that it cannot be done (the acquisition), then we (the federal government) will not go ahead,” he said in a statement.

Subramaniam said the decision was taken to respect the sentimental values held by the Indian community towards the DIA and the land.

“It is a historical piece of land and close to the hearts of the Indian community. We decided to convey to the Perak menteri besar the decision of the Cabinet as land is a state matter, and only the state government can decide,” he said.