Kampung Buah Pala, Bukit Gelugor, Penang

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The former Kampung Buah Pala in Bukit Gelugor (7 July 2009)






Kampung Buah Pala, also called the Tamil High Chaparral, was a small village in Bukit Gelugor, Penang. It was the home of Indians who are the descendants of plantation workers and cattlemen of the former Brown Estate. The village is popularly nicknamed High Chaparral due to its elevated location on Bukit Gelugor.

The Brown Estate used to cover much of what is known today as Gelugor and Minden. It was one of the estates belonging to the family of David Brown, the biggest property owner on Penang Island in the 19th century. The Brown properties included vast tracts of plantation land in Ayer Rajah (today the leafy residential neighbourhood of Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman), Sungai Ara (nowadays Taman Kenari) and even Strawberry Hill on Penang Hill.

Lorong Buah Pala, where the village once stood (7 July 2009)


The Indian settlement at Gelugor used to extend all the way from Bukit Dumbar to Batu Uban. It was a huge estate with coconut groves and cattle-breeding pans known as Perrya Thottam, meaning Large Estate. The inhabitants are mostly South Indians from Tamil Nadu who were brought over to Malaya as estate workers. Over the decades, the former plantation land was converted for residential development. The land on which Kampung Buah Pala was given in trust to the government of the Straits Settlement by Helen Margaret Brown, the landowner of the Brown estates before the Brown family returned to Britain. The Brown Estate packed up in 1956. The trust to the land was then transferred to the State Government. Under the State Government, the villagers were given TOL (temporary occupation license) to stay there paying annual TOL rental. Some of the Indians living in Kampung Buah Pala continued to lead a village lifestyle of breeding cattle, albeit seeing their pastures dwindle in size and their village becoming increasingly hemmed in by urban development.

Something curious happened four years (2005) ago. The government stopped collecting rent for the Temporary Occupation License, arousing the residents' suspicion that something was amidst. Unaware to them, the Executive Council of the then Chief Minister of Penang, Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon, approved the sale of the land of Kampung Buah Pala to the Koperasi Pegawai Kerajaan Pulau Pinang on 18 August 2004 and a second time on 8 June 2005, for RM6.42 million, or RM20 per square feet. On the recommendation of the then Deputy Chief Minister, the premium of the land was halved to RM3.21 million or RM10 per square foot. (Citations: 1, 2) The residents claimed that these were carried out without their knowledge.

One of the two village wells at Kampung Buah Pala (7 July 2009)


In fact, according to Koh Tsu Koon (citation), the state government sold the land to the cooperative at such a low price because the government in return was also given a piece of land for the expansion of the Supreme Court complex. This is the land on which the annex court building along with Logan Memorial are now located.

When the residents brought the TOL collection issue to the Barisan Nasional government, they learned that the land they have been staying on had been sold, and they would have to move out. According to the residents, they were also told that they have no right to the land. The residents found out that the land had been sold at a cost of RM3.2 million to the Koperasi Pegawai Kerajaan Pulau Pinang (Penang State Officers Cooperative). The Koperasi proceeded to form a joint-venture with a developer, Nusmetro, to build high rise condominiums on this land.

Residents of Kampung Buah Pala claimed that, without owning the land (ownership was only fully transferred to the Koperasi in March 2008), the Koperasi on 5 February 2007 issued an eviction notice to them. Displaying the letter from the koperasi, the residents informed that each license holder was offered a 850 sq ft three-bedroom low-medium cost flat or RM90,000 progressive payment. This is different from the amounts reported in several sources, that the residents were given a compensation of RM200,000 (Citations: 3, 4), and questioned how the amount RM200,000 was derived, claiming that the developer never proposed a compensation of such magnitude.

When the residents refused to move out, the developer and the Koperasi took action by filing a summary judgement for vacant possession to eject the residents. They failed twice, once in registrar court, and once in the high court, where the courts found no concrete evidence showing that the state is the rightful owner and has the authority to sell the land, which might be federal land.

The developer and koperasi took the case to the appeal court in Putrajaya. They succeeded, the judgement is the residents do not have locus standi and were only TOL holders. This despite the residents having documents to proof their status for the land. The resident then appealed to the Federal Court in Putrajaya in May 2009. Unfortunately, the Federal Court Judge Augustine Paul ruled in favour of the developers, giving the residents one month to vacate the land without any compensation, by 2 July 2009. It was then that the residents appealed to the state government. To investigate the matter, the state government extended the eviction notice by one month, to 2 August 2009.

Residents of Kampung Buah Pala meeting with me (7 July 2009)


I wrote this on 7 July 2009 following my visit to Kampung Buah Pala, a day before the residents are to meet with the Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng. I was graciously received by the residents, who showed me around the village. If their village could be spared the jackhammer, they had dreams and plans to turn it into a model traditional Indian village, showcasing the Indian way of life similar to Kampung Seronok. In the past few days, there was been several emotional outbursts from the residents, allowing parties with their own agendas to tap. I urged the residents, when they meet the Chief Minister, to exercise restrain, to present their case compellingly and with reason, and to at no point succumb to emotion. We will find out how it goes, when tomorrow comes.

8 July 2009: Unfortunately tomorrow came, but nothing productive came out of it when the villagers walked out because they were not allowed their lawyers in the meeting with the Chief Minister.

9 July 2009: Geram! I am fed up and I am exasperated, but the only word to describe the feeling inside is Geram! After spending the day before explaining to them how to talk to the Chief Minister, I see them doing the direct opposite. And as expected, nothing productive came out of the meeting. If I were less sympathetic, I would have said, "Serve them right!" If only they can for one moment be a little less confrontational, a lot could have been done.

Cattle grazing at Kampung Buah Pala (7 July 2009)


Well, I am not going back to the village to rehearse them again. They have to figure out how to get their own act together. The Chief Minister was being wise when he instructed that no lawyer should be allowed in the meeting. While there is a purpose for lawyers in this world, there are times when we are better off without their intervention. Lawyers are like medicine. When you get sick, some times you need to take medicine. But there are also times when you should reject taking medicine, if you can heal on your own, and the medicine itself gives you side effects and make you sick.

Even today, the villagers were still expecting the Chief Minister to solve their problem with a stroke of a pen. Oh, such simple people with simple minds! Even today, these villagers think it is the Chief Minister's problem, not their own. And along the way, they are allowing people with their own agenda to fully exploit their plight for their own gain.

The Oasis Condominium, one of the two projects along Lorong Buah Pala (25 November, 2012)


As much as I hate to agree with him, I have to call out a morsel of wisdom in the words of the former Chief Minister Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon, who said that the whole issue could have been solved, had the villagers negotiated a settlement at the beginning, instead of taking the matter to court. As you can see, yes, you can have lawyers fighting for you. But don't expect that you will always win. And when you don't, you bear the consequences. And here we have, these simple people, still not learning their lesson. Somebody needs to go to Kampung Buah Pala and teach these people how to employ tact, and diplomacy, and courtesy, and respect, and humility, as weapons of war. Unless some sense is knocked into them. these people are going to lose the war, and it's all because they are holding the gun the wrong way.

10 July 2009: Lim Guan Eng described the refusal of some of the residents of Kampung Buah Pala to meet him as "regrettable and displays an aggression, hostility and even arrogance that is puzzling". It is unfortunate that these poor villagers have been so manupulated by certain quarters that they are now confused. Added to that a high degree of nervousness and desperation, and we have a group of people who have misplaced their anger.

Pulse Condominium, the other condominium project on Lorong Buah Pala (25 November, 2012)


Getting there

Kampung Buah Pala is located at the foot of Bukit Gelugor. Coming from the north along Jalan Yeap Chor Ee, turn left at Jalan Kaki Bukit. Go along Jalan Kaki Bukit and you will arrive at Lorong Buah Pala, site of the village of Kampung Buah Pala.

Nearby Sights

  1. Nan Tien Gong Temple
  2. Bukit Gambier Waterfall
  3. Gelugor

Website

Kampung Buah Pala Blog was set up by the residents of the village to highlight their plight.

Updates

27 November 2012 The two condominium projects on the former Kampung Buah Pala site were completed. They were The Oasis Condominium and Pulse Condominium. The remaining land is used to create the housing estate of Taman Buah Pala which houses some of the residents of the former Kampung Buah Pala.

22 April 2012
The nine remaining former house owners of Kampung Buah Pala, who were left without a home following the demolition of their house in September 2009, were given new home keys from prime minster Najib Tun Razak. The houses were given on humanitarian grounds and not as compensation. They are valued at RM220,000 each and are located at Taman Sejahtera Indah, Teluk Air Tawar, on the Penang Mainland.

5 September 2009
24 house owners at Kampung Buah Pala accepted an offer from the developer a compensation of a double-storey house of 1,400 sq ft along with RM8,000 in shifting cost.

Location of Kampung Buah Pala on the map

List of Villages on Penang Island

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