Let the bananas grow on State Land

14 03 2012

There has been a fair bit of news on the Singapore Land Authority’s (SLA) eviction of farmers occupying land along Sungei Ulu Pandan just north of the Clementi Avenue 4 area. The issue first came to light when an impassioned letter, written by the son of one of the farmers was sent to SLA on 7 March to appeal the eviction, which was followed by a Straits Time report “Group told to clear out ‘farm’ on state land” published on 10 Mar 2012. The SLA has since clarified their position, stating the reasons behind the eviction of the farmers who have for several years illegally occupied what is State Land.

Vegetable plots along a former rail corridor. An eviction notice has been posted on each of the farms occupying what is State Land along Sungei Ulu Pandan.

The land in question lies along the Jurong Rail Corridor. The rail corridor was built in the mid 1960s to serve Jurong Industrial Estate and has been disused since the mid 1990s – after which the land was returned to the State by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM). The writer of the letter, had written of what the farm had meant to his 71-year-old father who tended to it, which provided “much joy, personal well-being and an avenue for physical activity”. He also added that the space had also allowed his children an education beyond what the classrooms are able to provide.

The farms being evicted are along a stretch of the former Jurong Rail Corridor which has been disused since the 1990s and returned to the State by the railway operator KTM.

The SLA in exercising its right to evict the farmers – not least for the illegal occupation of State land, also cited several reasons beyond illegal occupation. These include the fencing up of the parcels of land involved, the erection of make-shift sheds and an outdoor toilet, as well as the collection of stagnant water which had a potential for mosquito breeding. It does appear that the SLA has acted on complaints made by residents in the area on the nuisance caused by the burning of branches and leaves which has affected the air quality in the area – as well as the act being a potential fire hazard. SLA position has also drawn support from some members of the public – one, Mr Tony Lee, in a letter to the Straits Times Forum published today, brought up an important consideration that “if such squatters are tolerated, more and more will occupy state land illegally”.

Banana trees on State land - some of the younger generation have never seen bananas growing on trees.

There isn’t any doubt about the validity of the concerns raised over the illegal use of land, or on the need to carry out the necessary enforcement on the SLA’s part. This episode does however, open a window of opportunity for the Authorities to look beyond the enforcement of the law (which is there for good reason) and take a step towards a gentler and more inclusive society that has very much been talked about of late. The signs are certainly encouraging based on a news report in today’s edition of the Straits Times (“Let’s talk, SLA tells farmers”, Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2012). The report does indicate that the SLA has changed its tact slightly and has now opened a channel for discussion with farmers who willing to come forward by 20 March.

A makeshift scarecrow at one of the farms?

While in all probability the discussion would be on a possible extension to the deadline of 20 March imposed by the SLA for the clearance of illegally occupied State Land, I do hope that it goes far beyond that. While that the farms have been illegally set-up and fenced up and that there are public safety and health concerns associated with them is never in question, there is some scope to look into maintaining what is already there and extending access to them to the wider community in the interim (the SLA does note that there are no immediate plans for the use of the particular stretch of land). An idea mooted by a guide during one of the walks organised by the good people behind “We Support the Green Corridor” I attended a while ago, Ms Margie Hall of the Nature Society of Singapore, was that the Authorities grant temporary occupation licences to the farmers. This would not only allow the farmers – mostly retirees, a useful pursuit in their advanced years, it will also permit the use of land to be regulated. This will also allow concerns of residents and the Authorities to be managed and eliminated and its use opened up to the community. It is the community that would stand to gain most from this – allowing both young and old a space in their neighbourhood to which they would be able to escape the urban Singapore we have become to a calmer, gentler and greener Singapore – a Singapore from which we have all emerged from and a Singapore we have long forgotten of.


SLA’s reply to Straits Times article “Group told to clear out ‘farm’ on state land” published on 10 Mar 2012:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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11 responses

14 03 2012
KP

Should photograph and write a comparison between unstructured farms like this vs structured farms we find in HDB estate.
I think unstructured farms are generally more rustic and charming

14 03 2012
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

There is an example of a structured farm near where I live – nothing like the unstructured ones that are now facing eviction … certainly not very rustic nor charming.

14 03 2012
ong

Actually, the title is like a brain wave.

Why don’t the govt hand over all land on the ex-ktm rail track not earmarked for other uses to a govt agency to grow only fruit trees?

So come fruit season, people can pay a small fee to eat all they can at the orchard and fruits can also be harvested and distributed to charitable organizations.

15 03 2012
kupusamy

They should work with that way of the farmer fellow. He will know how and what to plant. My sister knows his previous boss. This fellow is actually an engineer, a doctor of science or something, but he is a very good talker and quiet smart and I suspect crafty as well. One day he went to Burma and Africa to ask for land concession. He blackmailed the govt by coinciding his trip with environmental NGO’s. He did so well in the presentation, that the NGO’s loved him, after that all those government were all begging to give him land. He should do the same with the NPB. I am sure that narrow stretch of green will look very peaceful after he has had a go at it.

15 03 2012
Lester Yeong

A group of us, land users had a meeting with MP for Bukit Timah GRC, Ms Sim Ann last night. Bukit Timah GRC is not ready to request from SLA to retain the above mentioned land parcels for community usage. The main reasons cited were lack of funds, uncertainty of Temporary Occupation Lease duration from Singapore Land Authority and the lack of experience to maintain a single large size community land.

It is very unfortunate that there are some users do not maintain the area well and caused unnecessary hazards for the nearby residents. However, there are other users like the group of us who regularly keep the area clean and mosquito free as much as possible.

We understand that such activities should not be carried out on State Land. Since SLA do not have any upcoming developments for the area, can we be allowed to continue with the horticulture activities? Why do Singapore still need to spend millions of dollars yearly to do up Park Connectors, parks and gardens where there is already an existing natural park within the estate in its own rustic condition? The group of us are appealing for some form of support to allow the current activities to be carried out, minus the health hazard issues of unwanted burning and mosquito breeding, for an extended period of time.

16 03 2012
Prata Bob

Are the hobby farms fenced up to keep out members of the public? If they are, sorry, then the hobby farmers should not behave like they own the land. They are basically squatters and asserting squatter rights.

If the hobby farms are open to public and then perhaps SLA should allow the farms to continue unless complaints from other members of the public continue. But the hobby farmers must be prepared that their crops might be damaged or worse because of some irresponsible inconsiderate people too.

16 03 2012
tan

Why do Singapore still need to spend millions of dollars yearly to do up Park Connectors, parks and gardens where there is already an existing natural park within the estate in its own rustic condition?

becoz anything which is free is not good and must be treated with caution. if its expensive like $10 chye tow kway, it must be good. and we dont want lousy things. so we like to throw $$ at all problems… no $$ no talk, got $ got talk.

17 03 2012
Xenobio

I find it a bit silly that people keep referring to these as farms. They aren’t big enough and they’re mostly not for commercial purposes so “gardens” would be more appropriate, right?
I wish SLA would consider legitimising these and opening up other plots along the Green Corridor as community gardens. In the town where I studied in the USA, the university’s postgraduate student housing estate had community gardens which were operated as follows: a) Plots allocated by balloting on a yearly basis. b) The plot is free. c) You can plant whatever you like (obviously excluding illegal plants like ganja lah). d) You have to maintain your garden up to a certain standard, e.g. ensuring that weeds are kept to a minimum. With some sensible guidelines like this I think it would a great concept for Singapore.

17 03 2012
Lester Yeong

Hello Xenobio. Thank you for the reminder on garden and not farm. That will definitely help in my upcoming plans.

17 03 2012
peter

I like to ask whether if I pluck some fruits from the squatters, will I get chased and scolded by the farmer?

If indeed they would, then the law must apply.

A disctinction has to be made between cultivating for one’s own consumption/pleasure and sharing the fruits of the labour with passer-by.

After all cultiuvation is made not on private property but on State Land.

17 03 2012
Lester Yeong

Hello Peter. Everyone is welcome to visit the area and ask for items that they wish to have. The reason for the fencing, door and locks are to prevent unnecessary pilferage of the gardening tools and damages to the vegetation when unattended. Usually, most users of the individual land plot are there working on them. I am very sure if you ask for something from the respective gardener, your request will be gladly met. I’m sure if you have something to offer to everyone, you would hope that people using it will take care and use it responsibly. Some amount of effort, perspiration and endeavourment has gone into the harvest, ready to be shared by all.

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