Why I am unsympathetic towards residents affected by the Cross Island Line

By Victor Goh

The planned construction of the new Cross Island Line across the Central Catchment Nature Reserve has triggered concerns from environmental organizations.

Calling for zero impact on the nature reserve, these groups have suggested an alternative route along Lornie Road. In response, the president of Yew Lian Park Residents’ Association, as the representative of affected residents in the area, opposed this suggestion on the grounds that these residents would lose their homes. [1] As long as we subscribe to pragmatism as a nation, this reasoning is unjustified.

Pragmatism often works in conjunction with utilitarianism. The former says that whatever works should be considered good. But this begs the question: to whom is this good for? As there will inevitably be winners and losers in a particular proposal, it is considered good if it generates the greatest good for the greatest number of people, à la utilitarianism.

Since it has already been decided that the Cross Island Line will play a crucial role in relieving the load on existing lines, the construction of the line is in accordance with the principle of pragmatism. Although some individuals might be disadvantaged by the plan, the plan will alleviate the existing load on our MRT lines and hence, is a plan that works for Singaporeans. The objection of a line through the estate because ‘it inconveniences me’ appears to be insufficient as long as we choose to be pragmatic.

Image from "Love our MacRitchie Forest"
Image from “Love our MacRitchie Forest”

Instead of opposing the alternative path as proposed by environmental organizations, one should perhaps question the government’s role in acquiring land for public projects, especially if the homeowners are unwilling to give up their homes. On a deeper level, we might be better off reconsidering the notion of pragmatism as an indisputable value of our society and alter it according to the circumstances of a particular issue.

There is no doubt that some people will apply this idea to the original plan: by constructing the line through the nature reserve, fewer people would be affected, as residents no longer need to relocate. Indeed, this will be the case in the short run. However, in the long run, the ecological impacts of the line will be irreversible, ultimately reducing the naturally endowed wealth of our nation.

According to the Parks and Trees Act, “No person shall, except with the approval of the Commissioner granted under section 12 and in accordance with the terms and conditions of such approval, carry out any of the following activities within any national park or nature reserve”, where one of these activities include clearing, breaking up, digging or cultivating any land. [2]

The original plan for the Cross Island Line to go through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve assumes that the Commissioner would grant an approval for the construction to take place within the reserve. This assumption should have been unfounded given that the Environmental Impact Assessment (part one) was only released this year, since an exception of the particular clause can only be reasonably granted in agreement with the findings of the assessment. The concerns raised by the community are the direct consequences of the decision made to place the Cross Island Line across the nature reserve in the original blueprint before having conducted any investigation.

As long as the law creates an exception for the Commissioner to approve such projects, our nature reserves will be in danger of protecting its integrity as a reserve. A law that purportedly protects a reserve should not have allowed for such exceptions under any circumstance, especially if our lawmakers are determined to keep the space as a reserve. Even if such a provision needs to be in place, it should not have been activated, unless it concerns issues of the utmost importance. In this issue, preserving the reserves would be considered secondary to projects like the Cross Island Line, subjugating our environmental values to the perceived convenience of a shortened traveling time and the associated economic savings.

Given a strict interpretation of the Parks and Trees Act, the law should have unreservedly protected our nature reserves without concerns of additional traveling time of future commuters and the $2 billion in rerouting costs. [3] One would not question the additional costs of adhering to building codes if one were to plan on building an apartment governed by such codes. Indeed, the relevant authorities should have factored in these costs in the initial decision before green lighting the proposal. If that is the case, the line should have been approved only if a proposal that does not cut through the reserve makes economic sense. The ‘additional’ costs of the alternative line should not have been relevant to the issue.

Ex-Minister of Transport Lui Tuck Yew presented a vision for land transport that includes the support of an inclusive, liveable community. [4] However, such a community should not exclude the environment as a non-human stakeholder. The Commissioner should exercise restraint in granting exceptions to state law that undermines the natural reserves that constitutes part of our natural wealth. Such a restraint would necessitate the route around the natural reserve as a default, not as an alternative option. As long as we remain grounded by pragmatic principles as a nation, communities should not oppose a plan just because they are disproportionately affected by proposed projects. Perhaps after having benefitted from so many other state projects, people ignore the plight of affected individuals in the past and refuse to consider the possibility that they too, might find themselves in similar situations of inconvenience.


[1] Cross Island Line sparks residents’ fears 
[2] http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;query=DocId%3Ac6871e24-cb16-417e-8dd5-81bdd6c1ff3c%20Depth%3A0%20Status%3Ainforce;rec=0
[3] $2b extra cost if Cross Island Line skirts Central Catchment Nature Reserve
[4] Speech by Mr Lui Tuck Yew at visit to DTL1 Chinatown Station on 17 January 2013