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Battle Lines Forming Over Zoning in Bali

Culture Hard Liners versus Developers: Battle Lines Form Over New Zoning Law as Pecatu Residents Take Bali's Provincial Government to the Supreme Court.

(10/22/2010) Support continues to grow for Governor Made Pastika and the provincial government of Bali's continuing efforts to introduce an island-wide zoning law (RTRW). The latest groundswell of support comes in response to a formal complaint filed by a group of citizens from Pecatu, South Bali, who claim the new RTRW limits their right to build and develops sites on land they own in close proximity to religious temples.

The new zoning law is, in fact, a strengthening of a regulation put forth by Bali's largest Hindu organization in 1994 to protect religious and sacred areas.

Developers Lining Up Against the Keepers of Bali's Heritage

The traditionalist view is that if Bali is to maintain its cultural heritage, the sanctity of its temples must be preserved as the core institution of the island's material and spiritual well-being. The supreme chairman and supreme vice-chairman of the Customary Village Association of Bali (Majelis Utama Desa Pakraman –MUDP), Jero Gede Putu Suwena and Ida I Dewa Ngurah Swastha, said they hoped the provincial government of Bali would not surrender in the case before the Supreme Court challenging the new RTRW. The two traditional community leaders maintain that the 5 kilometer "no-build zone" around sacred temples, a prohbition challenged by Pecatu in its suit before the Court, is an absolute requirement to save the island's cultural heritage. Suwena and Swastha warned: "The sacred radii surrounding temples must be preserved. This small island of Bali must be guarded by all Balinese together. Investors may come. Anyone can come with the condition that what they find here must be honored."

The suit before the Supreme Court claims the RTRW is prejudicial to the financial interest of Pecatu's land owners.

Suwena and Swastha told the Bali Post that the "no-build zone" clause within the RTRW represents a legal basis for Bali's salvation, based on religious principles necessary to prevent cultural annihilation. Because of this, the two customary village leaders pray that there are no Balinese prepared to place commercial interests before the island's spiritual and natural heritage. "In this regards, MDP Bali clearly supports the provincial government of Bali in their efforts to preserve the RTRW," the men said.

Arguing for the acceptance of the RTRW, Swastha said the role of the five kilometer and five meter sacred radii should not be misunderstood as absolute bans on the use of these lands. Within the sacred radii agricultural applications and other productive enterprises are still permitted, providing such activities are not seen to contaminate the adjacent temples. Non acceptable uses would include enterprises such as hotels, villas, discotheques and massage parlors.

Additional support for the RTRW is also coming from academic circles in Bali represented by the Forum of Balinese Rectors, the Indonesian Association of Private Educational Institutions (APTISI) and the Forum of Balinese Educators. At the same time, Bali's Udayana University has formed a special team to study the legal, environmental, socio-cultural and religious implications of the RTRW in order to support the provincial government in implementing the new zoning rules.

Numerous leading educators have defended the RTRW as a well-founded legal document reflecting the aspiration of the Balinese people to protect their heritage. The educators have stated their desire to lend all support to the provincial government in implementing the new zoning rules.

A Call to Action

A group of academic leaders have called on their fellow academics, youth organizations, community organizations, and community and religious leaders to join forces in supporting the RTRW, ensuring the Supreme Court knows the new zoning rules reflect the will of the Balinese people.

Shouldering the Tax Burden

Responding to complaints from the residents of Pecatu that current high property tax rates are inconsistent with the low or non-productive status stipulated by the RTRW, the academics have joined voices calling on the provincial government of Bali to establish a special tax policy for lands falling within the sacred radii.

The academics are also calling for the provincial government to make clear stipulations on existing buildings standing within the sacred radii whose construction predates the new RTRW.

The vice-chairman of Commission IV of the Bali House of Representatives (DPRD-Bali), Ketut Kariyasa Adnyana, views the implementation of the RTRW with a life and death matter for Bali. Adnyana warns that if Bali loses its soul, it will be forever damaged. Adding that if all things requested by developers are considered possible, Bali will be destroyed.