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Explained: Why Nusantara has been selected as the new capital of Indonesia

The capital of Indonesia is being shifted from Jakarta to East Kalimantan, and will be called Nusantara. What is the reason for this, and why has East Kalimantan been chosen? Have other countries changed their capitals?

Written by Sanskriti Falor , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 19, 2022 8:15:37 pm
East Kalimantan, where the new capital will be, as per the bill is said to have a world-city vision.

Indonesia passed a bill replacing its capital Jakarta with East Kalimantan, situated to the east of Borneo island. The new capital city of the country will be called Nusantara.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo had first announced the plan to move the capital city from Jakarta in 2019. Widodo had cited increasing environmental issues that Jakarta has been facing along with financial inequality while announcing the plan to change the capital in 2019. His government then drafted a bill, which was passed in the Indonesian parliament Tuesday.

Widodo had tweeted in 2019, “The government has conducted an in-depth study, especially in the last three years. As a result, the most ideal location for the new capital city is in East Kalimantan, partly in Kab. Penajam Paser Utara and some in Kab. Kutai Kartanegara.”

What is the New State Capital Law bill?

The New State Capital Law Bill has been drafted by a special committee set up by Widodo’s government and makes Nusantara, also called IKN, the capital of the Republic of Indonesia. A presidential decree would be required to officially change the capital from Jakarta to Nusantara.

It also states that the “Head of the State Capital Authority” will be “responsible for carrying out the duties and functions of the IKN Authority in the preparation, development, and relocation of the State Capital, as well as the implementation of the IKN Special Government”.

The transfer of the status of Jakarta as Indonesia’s capital to Nusantara, where 256,142 hectares of land has been set aside for the project, will take place in the “first semester” of 2024, it adds. Post which, Nusantara will be “the domicile for Institutions, State, representatives of foreign countries and representatives of international organizations/institutions”.

Deputy Chair of the special committee drafting the bill, Saan Mustofa has said Nusantara would be led by a chief authority whose post would be at the same level as of a minister, Reuters reported.

East Kalimantan, where the new capital will be, as per the bill is said to have a world-city vision. It will be designed and managed with the objective of becoming a sustainable city in the world.

The bill states that the aim would be to make Nusantara a city, which is “a driver of Indonesia’s economy in the future, as well as a city which is a symbol of national identity and represents the diversity of the Indonesian nation”.

All fundings related to the preparation, development, and relocation of the capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan will be funded from Indonesia’s budget. While no budget details have been given in the bill, reports have quoted Widodo stating the project cost to be approximately $33 billion.

With the new capital, all of Indonesia’s government institutions would also move to East Kalimantan along with the offices and homes of civil servants and ministers. The presidential palace will also move to the new capital.

Why is Indonesia changing its capital city?

The major reasons cited by Widodo to produce a bill to change the capital of the country from Jakarta to East Kalimantan were the increasing pollution and population in Jakarta.

Many Indonesian presidents, for years, have been trying to find a solution and move the Indonesian capital from Jakarta to another city.

Widodo had said in 2019 in a speech, as per The Guardian, “The location is very strategic – it’s in the centre of Indonesia and close to urban areas…the burden Jakarta is holding right now is too heavy as the centre of governance, business, finance, trade and services.”

Jakarta has been Indonesia’s capital since the country became independent in 1949. The city has become overcrowded and extremely polluted for the last few decades. Jakarta has been known for extremely high air pollution. The city’s pollution levels are so bad that it has been ranking as one of the most polluted cities in the world for years.

Another important reason to shift the capital from Java island to Borneo island has been the growing inequality – financial and otherwise. Java Island, especially Jakarta which is spread across more than 661.5 square kilometres, is immensely populated where as while East Kalimantan, spread across 127,346.92 square kilometres, is bigger than Jakarta, it is a lot less populated than the current capital.

Along with this, Jakarta has also been sinking and it has been said that if nothing was done, many parts of the city would submerge underwater by 2050. Indonesia is prone to floods, and Jakarta is surrounded by multiple rivers.

A study in West Java by IPB University has shown that many cities on the Island showed the possibility of sinking up to 10.7cm in 2019 and 2020. Excessive use of groundwater due to developments was found to be the major reason for this.

Where is East Kalimantan?

East Kalimantan is 2,300 kilometres from Jakarta on the eastern side of Borneo island, shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The new capital will be located in the North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara regions. East Kalimantan is an area with immense water resources and habitable terrain.

East Kalimantan is rich in flora and fauna. Many environmentalists and activists have warned that moving the capital to East Kalimantan would lead to massive deforestation and put the habitat of these animals and trees in danger and damage the ecosystem.

Why Nusantara?

Nusantara is an old Javanese term that means ‘archipelago’. As per Indonesian Development Minister Suharso Monoarfa, the name was chosen amongst 80 names because it was easy to remember and familiar for Indonesians.

Welcoming the name, special committee chairman Ahmad Doli Kurnia Tandjung said, “Nusantara was taken with careful consideration, because there are historical, sociological, and philosophical aspects [attached to the name].” The name would represent Indonesia as a whole and would show the potential of the nation, he added.

What are the other countries that have changed capitals?

Indonesia is not the first country to change its capital city. There has been a long list of countries that have changed their capitals for various reasons. Brazil changed its capital city from Rio De Janerio to Brasilia, a more centrally-located city, in 1960. In 1991, Nigeria hanged the country’s capital from Lagos to Abuja. Kazakhstan moved its capital city from Almaty, which is still its commercial centre, to Nur-Sultan in 1997. Myanmar changed its capital from Rangoon to Naypyidaw in 2005.

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