The Malaysian resistance
Writer: Fahmi Fadzil
Published: Fri, 01 Apr 2011
These are “artistic impressions” of thoughts circumambulating the increasingly controversial Mass Rapid Transit (MRT)
project. I chose to say “increasingly controversial” because we all know we need this infrastructure and thus any opposition to it appears to reject a very public need.
Yet at the same time we don’t entirely know how it will all go. As I write this, many residents are still unsure if their homes will be bought or not, or how this mega project will actually be financed, or who will really reap the rewards of the largest infrastructural roll-out the country has ever seen.
I don’t want to bring up in full the arguments that have been posited by various parties – on how the project may or may not benefit certain mega joint ventures; on the increasing pile of debt that certain public bodies will have to sustain without them having any clear way of earning more income to pay off said debts; on the lack of transport services integration being potentially the greatest flaw of the entire project.
Instead I’d like to take a look at how residents have come together when faced with something as colossal as the MRT. In particular, I’d like to take a look at how residents in the leafy neighbourhood of Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) responded.
The TTDI residents have held a number of public meetings since the idea of the MRT was first broached.
These meetings – which I’m told were mainly self-organised – were initially aimed at clarifying the perimeters of the mega project and which areas would be affected most.
At these meetings, the recurring sentiment was evident: residents were in principle supportive of the MRT, but the main point of contention was how the entire project had been foisted onto their lives. Slowly, the magnitude of the mega roll-out began to be felt.
First, it was the debate on station locations. Were the stations going to be near the TTDI wet market? Or would the trains completely bypass the entire middle-class enclave and head straight for One Utama shopping centre?
Was there anywhere else these stations could be located? How would traffic flow increase or decrease during construction and once the stations were operational? And how would this impact on the homes nearby?
Then it was the question of the train tracks. Would they be aboveground or below-? How close would these tracks be to residents’ homes?
Once operational, how much noise would residents living in close proximity to the tracks have to endure on a daily basis? And if noise barriers were erected, how would it impact the visual landscape for the affected homeowners?
Next came the discussion on land. Some of these tracks, according to unfinalised alignment records, appear to be running over privately owned land. Would these be acquired by the federal government?
How would such a massive “buying” project actually be financed?
Would residents have to relocate from where they’ve been living for decades?
In a way, the straw that not only broke but pulped, mushed, and regurgitated the camel’s back into a pile of anger was the manner in which the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) personnel had pasted the notices on trees and lamp posts about how residents’ land may be acquired for purposes of the project.
The residents went from bewildered to berserker mode. It was not only the uncertainty of losing their homes, but it was the manner in which the notice was given to them.
As one politician put it, “[SPAD] was like the Sheriff of Nottingham”.
In under a day, word went straight to the top about the intense displeasure of the residents, thanks in no small part to the very vocal and receptive online media. In fact, a very hasty meeting was arranged between the residents and Datuk Seri Idris Jala, so that some of their sentiments and anxieties could be relayed to the head of Pemandu.
And what came of said meeting?
Back-pedalling: SPAD said no such acquisition of land was to take place, and essentially blamed it on obscure legislation.
So, to date, the MRT project in TTDI appears set to continue, despite the very public displeasure of residents. And from the looks of http://kvmrt.blogspot.com, the resistance to blanket acceptance of the project is not just limited to TTDI anymore.
It appears that more and more residents are wanting the MRT to go underground.
Which only means that the cost would go even higher...
It makes me wonder, yet again: Why oh why didn’t we build the MRT system 20 years ago?