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Friday, November 30, 2018

Use existing laws to deal with landownership issues, govt told after temple fracas

The Sri Maha Mariamman temple in USJ 25, which was the scene of several days of violence earlier this week.
PETALING JAYA: A planning and local government expert today said there are already laws in place requiring all places of worship to obtain approval from local authorities, following the commotion at a Hindu temple in Seafield, Subang Jaya, earlier this week.
In a statement, Derek Fernandez said these laws included the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 (TCPA 1976), the Street Drainage and Building Act 1974 and the Uniform Building By-Laws 1984.
Derek Fernandez.
“In addition, in Selangor, the state government has a special committee to deal with approvals for places of worship with state planning guidelines on this.”
The problem, according to him, was that many temples had for many reasons, including historical ones, been built on land that they did not own.
He was responding to the long-standing ownership tussle between One City Development Sdn Bhd and the devotees of the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in USJ 25, which saw several days of violence in the area.
He said some of these temples were built on state land, adding that their managements could not apply for approval as they did not own the land.
“Older temples on former estate land usually fall into this category and were originally built to provide places of religious worship for the community working the lands.
“One can imagine such a temple would have catered for several generations of births, marriages and deaths, along with hundreds of thousands of prayers in happy and sad times over half a century or or more,” he added.
The problems would only begin once the land was sold off for development by the original landowner, he said.
The new owners would often take the position that the temple was illegal and an obstacle to development.
“Not all cases are like this, but there are many. Thus, various legal suits were filed by the new owners against the temple or its committee, seeking to demolish and retake possession of the land on which the temple was built.
“These suits were sometimes settled between trustees and at times not. Such settlements when they occurred were not always accepted by devotees of the temple, especially where such temples were old and had a strong historic tie to its devotees.”
He said factions within temple committees often compounded these problems.
He said it was important for the government to regulate these issues before they become a threat to racial and religious harmony, or are exploited by those seeking to politicise the situation.
“The government’s priority is communal harmony and its mandate must transcend the individual actions by developers or temple committees. Clarity and certainty is therefore essential.”
Under the TCPA 1976, he said, local plans designating zoning control for these places could be set up.
“Once zoned, these places are protected and form part of the public amenities needed to justify increased development intensity.
“This protection applies even if the land is transacted or committees come and go or make decisions to relocate.”
The plans themselves could be amended after public hearings in accordance with the law, he added.
“Places of worship that don’t meet the criteria would then have to be dealt with in accordance with the law.
“The sooner this is done, the better, to ensure that these problems do not repeat.”
Alternatively, he said, the government could impose conditions on development orders involving high intensity development to ensure that sufficient land for places of worship is provided.
“Land conversion approvals and development orders can assist the government in resolving these issues without acquisition, if done properly in the spirit of dialogue and consultation.
“In the end, we need the will to resolve communal disputes with equitable policies in land use, planning and development control using the existing laws,” he said. -FMT

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