On 15th April 2020 officials from the Indonesian government and the East Java province attended a virtual groundbreaking ceremony for a new airport in the Kediri regency. The event marked the official start of construction works that had actually begun three months earlier in January when heavy machines were levelling soil, following several delays that were partly caused by some affected residents refusing to release their land for the project due to unpaid compensation.
Fewer than 20 families, in the villages of Bedreck and Bulusari, remained in the area. A villager told the Jakarta Post “If we accept the price, we won’t be able to buy land and build a house of similar value to what we have now”. She said none of the villagers wished to hamper the development of the airport, they simply wanted fair compensation. The Kediri administration said that only 0.6 per cent of the 400 hectares of land required to build the airport had not been acquired. Controversy over land acquisition for Kediri Airport dates back to 17th August 2017, when residents, aware of large-scale land acquisition, questioned whether it was a government or private project .
In March 2019 residents of one of the affected villages, Jatirejo, stated their refusal to accept the prices offered by land buyers for agricultural land, that they said were too low. They hung dozens of banners along village roads. A photo shows one banner saying that residents supported airport construction as long as it did not harm affected landowners . In October 2019 the head of family residents of Bedrek Selatan hamlet, Grogol village, had not released their land for the airport project as they had not agreed compensation. The airport plan had caused the price of land around the project site to soar. Land prices had also gone up in Bulusari village where some residents were confused over where to relocate to. Some who had received compensation were experiencing difficulties in finding places to relocate to because of soaring land prices. A shift in the location of the airport runway had required the acquisition of additional land, leaving residents with difficulties finding land to relocate to.
In January 2020 45 residents of Grogol village rejected land acquisition, protesting over a drop in the compensation offer that would only be sufficient for them to buy land in far away suburbs. The residents’ coordinator said they were being pressured to give up their land for the airport. In February 2020, just two months before the groundbreaking ceremony, some residents had still not agreed to the compensation offers for land acquisition. Ten families were refusing eviction because, while the price of land in their village had dropped drastically, the price of land in new locations where they might settle had risen; they faced the prospect of a huge loss. A resident of Bedrek spoke of repeated visits by land buyers over several months and being pressured to accept the price offered for land .
Two articles in the Jakarta Post, published in April 2021, give details of some residents still unwilling to leave their homes and suffer the impacts of airport construction works. At this stage of the airport project several villages – Tarokan, Tiron, Bangkan, Jatirejo and Grogol – had been demolished for the airport project and most of the inhabitants had left. Tugiyem, one of few villagers remaining in Mbandrek Selatan, spoke in the midst of swirling dust and roaring engines of construction vehicles, staring at a pile of dredged rocks. She had lived there since the 1960s and used to work gazing livestock, but her animals were left dying as the construction company had fenced off the land and she could not reach them. A metal fence erected on one side of Grogol, ostensibly to deter trespassing and reduce pollution from construction works, limits residents’ access to their village.
One of the main roads connecting Grogol village has been blocked off to aid construction works. This had forced farmers taking their crops to the city to take longer routes and food stalls and shops near the road had to shut down. Within a month of closing access to the road four shops had gone bankrupt. Owners of surviving shops have to rely on custom from their neighbours, including Siti Anggirawan who was forced to close her textile shop. Waiting for customers outside her grocery store, Sri Katun said air quality in Grogol had deteriorated, “When a strong wind blows, construction dust drifts into the house. I often cough.” But she had no thoughts of giving up the land she had bought after years of saving up money, saying, “This house is witness to my ups and downs alongside my husband. We want to die on this land that has been part of our history.”
Inhabitants of the six affected villages had experienced a downfall in their quality of life and livelihoods. Yoni Madu, a 42-year old resident of Bulusari Selatan village, living just 200 metres from where construction was taking place, said he had learned to live with “chaos” caused by construction works. He said “I’ve been hearing this noise for a year, so it finally feels normal. I couldn’t sleep in the past, and the scattered dust gave us breathing difficulties. But now it has become a normal thing.”
Only 11 houses remained in his village, where previously there were 50. He said that residents who left after selling their land, did so after losing out due to a low price based on dodgy calculations. If he sold his house he would not receive enough compensation to build a new home large enough to accommodate his family. Developers had erected a silver zinc wall surrounding the village, blocking off many access routes. The wall had killed off many small shops. Yanti Liswati, manager of a grocery store in Bulusari Selatan, said her shop survived through a mixture of good luck and neighbours liking the relatively low prices. She said that handing over her land for the airport would be too much of a gamble and setting up somewhere else from scratch did not seem worth it. She was also disappointed that airport developers had torn down a small musholla (prayer room) that had been owned by her family and frequently used by many villagers. She said: “The day before (the developer tore down the property), people from the airport came to the house, and I offered them a price. However there was no official agreement yet. I went inside to prepare teas (for the guests), but the developers led my husband to the mushalla. They convinced him into signing.” Remembering the sight of construction machinery tearing down the building she said “I could feel my heart breaking into pieces. I felt like I suffered the loss of a family member.” Anis, Yanti’s younger sister, said that the developer had promised to build a new mushalla but had yet to do so. She said that the airport had allegedly cajoled residents into signing a contract for a so-called ‘business loan’ in early 2019, presenting villagers with blank papers to sign and telling them they would receive a Rp5 million (USD346) loan. A few days later those who had signed received a notice stating that the paper represented a down payment and an agreement to sell their land unless they were able to immediately return the ‘loan’.
Anis said “We were shocked, but we couldn’t refuse. (We) are poor, most of the money had already been used.” Villagers banded together and crowdfunded to cover each other’s ‘loans’, but most did eventually accept subsequent offers and left the village. Yoni, Yanti, Anis and other remaining residents said they were not afraid of intimidation tactics. Yanti and Yoni said that if the developer blocked off access to their main road and turned their electricity off they would start making bonfires. Yanti told Jakarta Post that they could survive living in darkness. Instead of being sad they would reminisce about their childhood and the togetherness shared by neighbours. Yanti said: “If this development is intended to improve the economy of the poor, why are we becoming victims again? Why are they sacrificing poor people again? Stop it; we just want to relax. We just want to let it go, but we still don’t want to move, whatever the stakes are.”