death by paper cut

{March 14, 2012}   State Land

boundaries. things in singapore tend to be so clearly defined by the powers that be that it leaves little space for maneuver or alternatives. the use of state land is one such example.

very near where i live is the old jurong line. i have seen it morph over time; from railway tracks, to trodden paths, overgrown foliage, removal of tracks, and to cultivated land. in recent times,  i had the opportunity to walk through a stretch of 3km along the old jurong line from teban gardens to sunset way led by the supporters of the green corridor and saw for myself the community gardens currently in the spotlight.

during the walk, we were told that these green-thumbed folks living in the area always had the culture of cultivating land, a way of life before the relocation of residents from kampong to hdb flats. they were used to having backyards and space for growing and gardening and i do not imagine them to be finicky about drawing lines of division or second-guessing where sanctioned use of land begins or ends.

map of community gardens or informal plantations at a URA exhibition

Re-Imagining the Rail Corridor 5

Re-Imagining the Rail Corridor 3

community gardens at teban gardens

The Green Corridor walk along Old Jurong Line - Teban Gardens to Sunset Way 3km 22

The Green Corridor walk along Old Jurong Line - Teban Gardens to Sunset Way 3km 21

community gardens at clementi

The Green Corridor walk along Old Jurong Line - Teban Gardens to Sunset Way 3km 097

The Green Corridor walk along Old Jurong Line - Teban Gardens to Sunset Way 3km 114

recently, Singapore Land Authority issued an eviction notice for the community gardens at clementi avenue four to dismantle and disband. the farmers have one week from now to do so. these are SLA’s reasons for the call for eviction in response to an inquiry by supporters of the green corridor.

[Letter to SLA dated 8 Mar]

Request for SLA to Explain Planned Eviction of Community Gardens Along the Jurong Line

Dear Mr Hoong

I refer to the planned eviction of the community gardens along the Jurong Line near Clementi Ave 4.

2.  I would like to understand the reasons for the planned eviction by 20 Mar, and whether there would be plans to demolish and remove the existing gardens and railway tracks. Is there a possibility of retaining the community gardens and allowing the residents there to continue their gardening (for free or pay a license fee).

3.   For your necessary action, please. Thank you.

[Reply from SLA dated 13 Mar]

 Dear Mr Tay

 1            I refer to your 9 Mar 2012 emails. Please note that this email supersedes our email of 9 March (7:25pm).

 2             SLA makes available vacant State land, pending their development, for interim use by the community for recreational activities. Over the years, SLA has upgraded vacant State land for such uses.  There are today 270 community use sites in various parts of Singapore for the community to use and enjoy.

 3          However, State land is a precious resource and must be maintained and managed responsibly. An important principle that we uphold without exception is that individuals or groups of them are not allowed to encroach and lay claim on State land for their private use.  Where State land is allowed for community use, it is important that it does not cause disamenities for the neighbourhood, and does not adversely affect the land and the environment, such as causing ground contamination or mosquito breeding.

 4          In this case, some individuals have not only encroached on State land for their private purposes but several of them have also fenced up parcels of land as their “own” and padlocked them for their exclusive use. There are also illegally erected make-shift sheds and even an outdoor toilet (photos attached). During our inspection, we found several ponds with stagnant water which are potential mosquito breeding grounds if left unchecked. We have also received feedback of the burning of branches and leaves which affects the air quality for the residents nearby and are a potential fire hazard.

 5          In the interest of all residents living in the vicinity, SLA’s immediate priority is to stop the burning of leaves and commence vector control measures. We will also give those responsible for the encroachment a reasonable period of time to dismantle and remove the enclosed areas and illegally erected structures, failing which we will have to take action to remove them.

 6          The land is zoned as “Reserve” under the Master Plan 2008 and there are no immediate plans for the site at this point in time. In the interim, SLA will seek and consider the views of the grassroots organisations whether the land can be put to some form of community use for the enjoyment of the residents in the vicinity. However, any such use is interim and will have to cease when the land is required for future development.

SLA’s response to the inquiry is followed closely with a press release depicting SLA in more conciliatory disposition in the Straits Times but interestingly a lot more punitive in TODAY.

Eviction at Clementi Ave 4 - ST

Eviction at Clementi Ave 4 - TODAY

what is congruent in both articles is the fact that these cultivated plots of land have been in use for 30 years. and what is clearly evident is that these community gardens are flourishing and have been very well kept as far as how the farmers understand what a well maintained plantation should be. so it is perplexing that the drastic and absolute measures to clear all land can be viewed to be “for the greater community interest.” surely there are much better ways to address the issue of some burning of leaves and stagnant pools of water especially when SLA has made it clear in their response to the supporters of the green corridor that there “are no immediate plans for the site.”

i despair at the labeling of these farmers as “illegal” and to have “encroached” state land. i’m sure they do not understand what wrong they have done. it will be no wonder that they will not “own up.”

Toh Guan State Land 2

Update: 21 March 2012 (Today Online)

SLA extends deadline for ‘illegal farmers’ to vacate state land
by Olivia Siong

SINGAPORE – Residents who illegally used state land at Clementi Avenue for farming were given a reprieve yesterday as the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) granted a three-month extension to the 13 individuals who have identified themselves.The individuals, who were supposed to vacate the area by yesterday, will work with grassroots organisations towards an acceptable arrangement.The remaining residents will also be given a three-month grace period, if they step forward by April 3. Otherwise, the SLA said it will have “no choice but to dismantle and remove the enclosed areas and illegal structures”.

The land was formerly occupied by Malaysia’s Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) but has since been returned to Singapore.

Meanwhile, vector control has been carried out to prevent mosquito breeding and signs will be put up to warn the public of dangers such as potholes. Advisory notices will also be put up against the illegal burning of leaves.

The SLA said it will step up surveillance and work with the grassroots organisations and residents to detect illegal activities.

According to the SLA, the land has been reserved under the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Master Plan 2008 but there are no immediate plans for the site. It will continue to consult grassroots organisations on possible interim use.

The area’s Member of Parliament Sim Ann said the grassroots organisations will consider residents’ views and decide if they should apply for a license to use the land temporarily for community purposes.

In a statement, Ms Sim said: “(It is) good of the SLA to offer an extension to users who have identified themselves.”

The Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) yesterday appealed to the SLA to allow the area – coined the Clementi Garden by the NSS – to continue to be used as a community fruit and vegetable garden, under the NParks’ Community in Bloom scheme.

In a letter addressed to SLA chief executive Vincent Hoong, NSS president Shawn Lum pointed out that the area was part of the railway lands which the NSS had recommended to be retained as a Green Corridor and a community garden would be a “suitable development”.

“Properly implemented, the Clementi Garden will be a place where the elderly residents can practice active ageing, where families and neighbours can bond over gardening and where the young can have hands-on science lessons and develop a sense of responsibility in caring for the garden,” he said.

Dr Lum added that the NSS is ready to work with agencies and residents to maintain the area as part of the Green Corridor.

Update: 16 May 2012 (Straits Times)

By Grace Chua

A compromise has been reached between the Government and the people farming illegally in Clementi.

All 18 who had been tending to crops near Sungei Ulu Pandan will get to stay, but on a smaller plot of land. They will also pay $60 a year to continue farming there.

Member of Parliament Sim Ann said yesterday that when the farmers’ activity came to light in March this year, the Government’s task was to give them ‘a legitimate outlet for their passion for planting’. ‘The legal position is clear – whatever the background reason, encroachment on state land is illegal,’ said Ms Sim, who had been leading the talks between the gardeners and the various government agencies involved.

The land is mostly in the Bukit Timah ward of Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, where Ms Sim is the MP.

‘But… we also recognised that these are just individuals and families who happen to love planting vegetables and crops. We knew that they meant no harm,’ she added.

Ms Sim, who is also Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Law, said that other people who want to join in may do so.

The new community garden is located near Block 301 in Clementi Avenue 4. It will be run by the Bukit Timah Citizens’ Consultative Committee, with support from Northwest Community Development Council and the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council.

The committee is applying for a temporary occupation licence from the Singapore Land Authority, renewable each year, and expects to be able to use the land for at least three years.

Covering an area about 50m by 25m, the community garden will be divided into 30 or so strips, each 8m by 4m. Each gardener gets just one strip.

For decades, several people – mostly the elderly – have been gardening and growing herbs, fruit and vegetables at the 1,800 sq m strip of state land sandwiched between the Sungei Ulu Pandan canal, the former Malayan Railway (KTM) track, Clementi Avenue 4 and Clementi Avenue 6.

In March, they faced eviction after residents complained about burning leaves and mosquitoes, and Ms Sim had helped secure a three-month respite and June 20 move-out date.

Kindergarten teacher Ng Ang Mui, 48, who had made some initial complaints about smoke from burning leaves, said of the new deal: ‘They need to have a proper way of handling the leaves, rubbish and the mosquitoes… If there’s a proper way to handle these, I think there should be no problem.’

Laboratory manager Lester Yeung, 35, whose father tends to a plot just past the Clementi Avenue 6 flyover, said there has been no more burning of leaves since March. Even if the new garden is not as large, he said, ‘at least the objective of having folks be able to continue with what they do is met’.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

et cetera
%d bloggers like this: