By Jahabar Sadiq
KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 — Delays in acquiring land in Jalan Bukit Bintang for the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) has prompted the Finance Ministry to call MRT Corporation and other parties for an urgent meeting tomorrow to consider options to ensure the country’s most expensive infrastructure project meets its 2017 deadline to start operations.
The Malaysian Insider understands the meeting will discuss the viability of using the Bukit Bintang Plaza land as part of the underground station there rather than continue the push for 21 properties across the road in Kuala Lumpur’s busiest shopping zone.
“The Treasury has called for a meeting on Tuesday with all parties that have an interest in the project. They need to move fast as the land acquisition process is slow and could delay the project,” a source told The Malaysian Insider.
“Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak wants the project to meet its deadlines. Contracts have been awarded but the land dispute is a concern,” he added.
Bukit Bintang traders embarked on a signature drive last October to pressure Putrajaya into reverting to its original plan for two MRT stations in the area. Two stations, BB West and BB East, were originally meant to bookend the capital’s premier shopping district but the proposal was later dropped in favour of a single station underneath the busy intersection of Jalan Bukit Bintang and Jalan Sultan Ismail.
To ensure the construction goes as planned, MRT Corp will have to acquire land nearby as a yard for equipment and supplies. But traders there are refusing to deal with the project owner. The BB central station is expected to be the biggest station along the 9.5km-long underground stretch of the 51km line from Sungai Buloh to Kajang.
The Malaysian Insider understands the lots include two fast-food restaurants, a Porsche showroom, a batik gallery, a private club, offices and residential properties. Landowners said their properties were not included during the three-month public display of the project when it was put up in February 2011.
MRT Corp chief executive Datuk Azhar Abdul Hamid said last October that the project owner had no intention to take over the affected lots and promised to put back “brick-by-brick” any building that had to be demolished during construction.
But an on-going dispute with Chinatown traders in Jalan Sultan has pushed the Treasury to also consider options in Jalan Bukit Bintang. “They don’t want the issue in Jalan Sultan to repeat itself in Jalan Bukit Bintang,” another source said.
The Malaysian Insider reported on May 11 that the Committee to Preserve Jalan Sultan and Jalan Bukit Bintang (PJSJBB) had urged the government to withdraw the controversial compulsory acquisition process for the MRT project in the city’s Chinatown area.
The committee’s co-chairman, Tan Yew Sing, said: “MRT Corp repeatedly announced they will not acquire land in Jalan Sultan, but to date the government has not gazetted the cancellation of the land acquisition.
“It is only a verbal promise, it is not legally binding.”
Last month, the prime minister had told Jalan Sultan landowners that the previous land acquisition notice would be rescinded to pave the way for a mutual agreement (MA), saying the notice “will be withdrawn in a matter of time.” MRT Corp has repeated its assurance that it will not “demolish or acquire” any private buildings in Jalan Sultan.
To date, 16 landowners there have signed a Point of Agreement with MRT Corp (which will lead to the MA), while two have agreed to the acquisition of their property, according to MRT Corp.
The remaining three landowners — Lok Ann Hotel, Yan Keng Benevolent Dramatic Association, Kuala Lumpur Gospel Hall — are adamant that they will not sign any agreements with MRT Corp, which said that only the three buildings in the area — the Klang Bus Stand, Plaza Warisan and UO Superstore — will be demolished to make way for the MRT station.
The dispute over land acquisition began soon after landowners in Chinatown, Imbi and Bukit Bintang were informed in mid-2011 that the government would acquire lots above the KVMRT tunnel as owners’ rights extend to the centre of the earth under the law.
Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chief executive Mohd Nur Kamal has said landowners could then apply for stratum titles but added there was no guarantee Putrajaya would re-alienate the surface land back to them.
Critics have questioned the need for compulsory acquisition of both surface and underground land as the National Land Code 1965 was amended in 1990 to allow underground land to be acquired without affecting surface rights.
Unhappy landowners have mounted a high-profile campaign marked by many protests, signature drives and claims that Putrajaya was conducting a “land grab” in order to defray project costs.