Showdown at the High Chaparral

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Politicians need to be reminded not to abdicate their responsibility or forget their promises, writes Dalbinder Singh Gill, regarding the plight of villagers in Penang who are facing eviction from their homes.

When one talks about cows in Penang, the “High Chaparral” of Penang tops the list in Penang. Where is this place? Tucked away in Gelugor, hidden from the commotion of the city, lies this village well known as Kampung Buah Pala, 6.5 acres of beautifully landscaped surroundings.

But now, this village of about 300 villagers may be a thing of the past due to the alleged greed, hidden deals or back room machinations of certain quarters like the previous state government, Koperasi Pegawai Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang Berhad, the Land Office and certain officials in the current state administration.

The settlement originally came under a housing trust gazetted under the Housing Trust Act 1950 and residents paid temporary occupation licence (TOL) rents to the Land Office from the days of British colonial administration up to 2005.

That status has become a curse to the village in recent years. Developers have long coveted the area for high-rise development.

In my personal view, this has all the makings of a big land scam. The sale of the land was at about RM11 per sq ft when it is actually about RM100 something at market value, according to village action committee reps.

Kampung Buah Pala Action Committee chairman M Sugumaran, 52, blamed the previous state government under Dr Koh Tsu Koon for their plight.

In 1999, the villagers requested the federal government to gazette the area as a traditional Tamil Hindu settlement in accordance with its policy of preserving traditional villages as symbols of national pride. But the villagers’ attempt proved futile.

Senior resident, Draviam Arul Pillay, 84, said that Pakatan leaders had promised the villagers that they would preserve Kampung Buah Pala as a traditional Tamil Hindu village. “They vowed to defend our rights and interests,” said the senior citizen.

But their hopes faded when Raveentheran, the PKR Adun for the area, said it was all about ringgit and sen. The residents reminded the Pakatan reps that during the last general election campaign, top Pakatan leaders and candidates had vowed to go all out to preserve this village and defend the villagers’ right to the land.

Now, after 14 months of taking over the state government, Pakatan leaders are running away from the case giving excuses that it would be sub-judice to talk about the case or that they can’t do much as the case is now before the courts. Note, however, that the land alienation actually took place on 27 March 2008, just a few weeks after Pakatan stormed into power in Penang.

Politicians need to be reminded not to abdicate their responsibility or forget their promises lest greed triumphs in the end.

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