Customary people in the Toba Samosir regency, North Sumatra, are demanding the government return their traditional lands they claim had been taken by the Lake Toba Authority (BPODT) for tourism purposes.
They are claiming the land appropriation violated the law. The group is especially criticizing the authority for unilaterally evicting residents from their own villages for the launch of the Caldera-Toba Nomadic Escape in Ajibata district in Toba Samosir last week.
“It’s very inhumane,” the director of a local NGO called People’s Initiative Development and Study Group, Delima Silalahi, said on Monday.
The group represented the residents of the customary Sigapiton village who she said had been ousted from their land when it was encroached upon for tourism purposes.
“Several residents wanted to get their land back but they were thrown out. Many say tourism aims to boost the economy for people, but the reality is it is suppressing people,” she said.
Delima explained that a number of Sigapiton villagers went to the site of the Caldera-Toba Nomadic Escape launch in Ajibata district on the shore of the famed Lake Toba on Thursday, which was also attended by Tourism Minister Arief Yahya.
They went to protest against the alleged seizure of their customary land, but on the site they received ill treatment from officials from the BPODT who asked them to leave the vicinity.
Much of the people’s customary land, Delima said, had for more than two years been taken over for BPODT activities. Yet, the authority had never officially informed residents regarding the use of their land.
Some customary lands in Motung village, Ajibata district, had also been taken over by the BPODT, which had controlled a total of 385 hectares of customary lands for tourism activities, she added.
The group had sent a letter to the Environment and Forestry Ministry regarding the case. It had also urged the Toba Samosir regency administration to issue a bylaw on customary land recognition and protection.
The chairman of the Nusantara Customary People Alliance’s Tano Batak region, Roganda Parulian Simanjuntak, said the BPODT and the government should have accommodated the people’s demands.
“The government’s policy to acknowledge and determine customary lands was regulated in a 2014 home affairs ministerial regulation,” Roganda said, urging the implementation of the regulation to end the conflict between the customary people and the BPODT in Toba Samosir.
Responding to the issue, BPODT president director Arie apologized for what happened to the Sigapiton people during the launch ceremony.
He admitted that the officials had asked the residents to leave because they would have disrupted the calm and comfort venue, which could only accommodate a limited number of guests.
He brushed off claims about the status of the land, saying that the land the authority currently managed was owned by the state.
“Anyone wanting to trace [ownership] please go to the Environment and Forestry Ministry. Don’t argue with me. My task is to develop Lake Toba,” he told The Jakarta Post.