Hindu communities are worried about a reclamation plan in Benoa Bay in Bali that could threaten the existence of at least 24 temples in the area.
'The project could cause our temples to sink,' said I Wayan Widyantara, a member of Pengempon (temple management group) over the weekend.
Widyantara said his Deluang Sari temple was one of 24 temples located in Tanjung Benoa village, next to the Pudut turtle island in Benoa Bay.
To reach the temple, he said, people used traditional canoes.
The temples aside, Hindus consider Benoa Bay a sacred area because of the presence of 60 natural sites, including 19 loloan (estuaries) and 17 muntig (small islands that emerge during low tide).
Locals are worried that the reclamation of at least 700 hectares of the bay, for an integrated tourism development project proposed by a private developer, will damage their sacred area.
Researcher Kadek Suardana from the Hindu University of Denpasar said some of the temples were centered at the bottom of sea in the bay, including the Karang Tengah temple.
'No one knows exactly where the [center] point of the temple is. But, people agree to place a buoy above the temple as a symbol of the temples's point. People hold ceremonies at that point,' Suardana said during a discussion on social and cultural aspects of the planned reclamation in Denpasar, Friday.
Another researcher, Sugi Lanus, said that the reclamation would threaten the indigenous rights of Balinese living around the bay.
'For hundreds of years, the Bali indigenous society has been living around the bay and has kept the bay as a spiritual site. The government should consider these social and cultural aspects. If the reclamation is forcibly carried out, it would violate indigenous rights. There is traditional knowledge and local wisdom that should be respected,' Sugi said.
Sugi added that the government and investors should not only consider spatial aspects. 'It is about more than space. It is about people's beliefs and their spiritual lives,' he added.
Presidential Regulation No. 51/2014 that approved the reclamation was issued by then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono only several months before he left office.
The regulation has twisted previous spatial planning bylaws by redesignating Benoa Bay as a business site, no longer an environmental buffer zone and green-belt area.
Despite the presidential regulation, Sugi asserted that there were many regulations that must be considered, including the Bali spatial planning bylaw No. 16/2009 that banned any development in sacred areas. The bylaw was adopted from a bhisama (religious edict) issued by the Indonesian Parisadha Hindu Council (PHDI) in 1994.
Meanwhile, a representative of PHDI, Putu Wirata Dwikora, said that there was no doubt that Benoa Bay was a sacred area as there were many temples around the bay.
'Benoa Bay is a sacred area. No one can debate that,' the chairman of the council's intellectual study group said.
Wirata explained that the reclamation plan had been discussed at a recent council meeting in Jakarta.
He added that a special team of nine sulinggih (High Hindu priest) had been established to discuss the matter. 'We already have a study that shows that there are many sacred points in Benoa Bay. This study will be used by the sulinggih team to decide,' he said.
Wirata emphasized that the PHDI had never declared its support for the reclamation plan.
He denied a recent statement by the PHDI's I Ketut Wiana, to the national media, saying that the PHDI supported the reclamation in revitalizing the area.
'I would like to emphasize that the PHDI never declared that we agree with the reclamation plan. It was his personal statement,' he stressed.