“Bangun Bali, subsidi petani. Kita semua makan nasi, bukannya butuh reklamasi.”
“Build Bali, subsidize the farmers. We all eat rice, don’t need reclamation.”
If Bali needed a protest song, then the lyrics above from the song “Bali Tolak Reklamasi” (“Bali Refuses Reclamation”) summarize quite succinctly one of the most contentious issues bubbling beneath the veneer of the idyllic island paradise projected by tour operators.
The song was written by a band called Nosstress and sung by dozens of Balinese artists, including renowned bands such as Superman Is Dead, The Bullhead, Nymphea and Gold Voice.
It’s a rallying cry against the reclamation of land in Benoa Bay, in southern Bali, by the developer Tirta Wahana Bali Internasional — a massive project that critics contend will devastate the mangrove ecosystem and put the local fishing community out of work.
A decree permitting the project was first issued without any fanfare on Dec. 26, 2012, but later revoked by Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika.
However, the governor later issued a new reclamation decree granting TWBI permission to conduct a feasibility study on the plan to use, develop and manage the Benoa Bay area.
Upon issuing the second decree, the governor denied any personal interest in the project.
“Many people were fooled when the governor revoked the reclamation degree,” says said Jrx, the drummer from Superman Is Dead. “They think the reclamation has been canceled, but there are still attempts being made in that direction.”
This is why, he says, the protest from people grouped under the Balinese Against Reclamation Forum (ForBALI) continues.
ForBALI is a cross-sectoral civilian alliance consisting of student groups, nongovernmental organizations, musicians, artists and others concerned about Bali’s environment and who believe the planned reclamation of 838 hectares of land in Benoa Bay is part of an irresponsible environmental policy that will destroy Bali.
“The governor claims [the reclamation] is for Bali, expanding the land,” says I Wayan Gendo Suwardana, the head of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, or Walhi. “But he forgot to mention that this reclamation is going to make the sea disappear. [It is] a sea with many sociocultural functions and which is important for the local people’s livelihood.”
The bay area remains one of the few places in heavily developed southern Bali where traditional fishing methods are still practiced. Hundreds of fishermen gather off the shore from the afternoon until night during low tide to collect fish, shrimps, crabs and seaweed.
“This culture and type of fishing shouldn’t be wiped out just like that. These fishermen can’t instantly make the transition to tourism work. It doesn’t make sense,” Gendo says.
Critics say the creation of small new islets in the middle of the bay will damage Bali’s coastline, from Kampung Bugis Benoa to Tuban, Kuta and Serangan, all the way through to Sanur — essentially the entire beach stretch of the main drag.
The changing tidal patterns will also increase the risk of soil abrasion on the runway of Ngurah Rai International Airport, opponents say. A feasibility study by experts from Udayana University, the leading academic institution in Bali, has also recommended that the project not go ahead, yet the local government has insisted otherwise.
Another point of contention is the government’s claim that the land will be handed over to the local community after a period of 50 years. But insiders say there is a covert agreement in place between TWBI, village elders and the head of the Benoa Bay Community Empowerment Group (LPM) that says otherwise.
Notarized documents specify that the villages’ function as a partner in the project is to ensure security in and around the reclaimed area from outside external disturbances. The documents state this agreement is valid for 100 years, and gives local residents the right to manage just eight hectares of land — less than 1 percent of the total area to be reclaimed.
The land-use permit issued for this project, meanwhile, makes provisions for yacht marinas, race tracks, casinos, nightclubs, a large entertainment complex and theme park, resort hotels, a golf course, a luxury shopping complex, restaurants, bars, cafes, apartment buildings, and a large numbers of condominiums and villas for sale or lease.
For tourists and investors, the idea of all this luxury and convenience in a bay famed for its spectacular sunrises and sunsets, it makes for an exciting sell.
But as the singer Glenn Fredly said at a concert late last year at the Hard Rock Cafe Bali, “You can have fun in Bali, but you also have a responsibility to preserve Bali.”
Other celebrities have lent their support for the push against the reclamation project, including the singer-songwriter Iwan Fals, known for his own brand of protest music in decades past.
“The fire is alive,” he says in a video uploaded to YouTube for the campaign. “So many militant young people, but not vandals, are willing to act to fight for the lives of others.”
He ends it with a moving rendition of “Bali Tolak Reklamasi."